An Orchid Disguised as a Weed

For those of us old enough to remember giving or receiving an orchid corsage, the concept of a “weed orchid” seems odd. First discovered in 1879 near Syracuse, the helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) was first thought to be a new species of North American orchid. This caused quite a stir among 19th-century botanists and orchid enthusiasts, but the plant was later identified as a Eurasian native with a history dating to mid-16th-century herbal lore as a cure for gout.

We will probably never know if the plant was intentionally brought to North America, or if its seeds were hitchhikers on some transplanted Eurasian ornamental. What remains true is how well adapted it is to its new habitat.

Considering the rarity of our native orchids, and the near impossible task of transplanting them to gardens, it seems incredible that helleborine has become so well established. Quite simply, unlike our native orchids, this plant is happy with a wide range of soil conditions. It is also undaunted by some of the East’s most aggressive plants, like English ivy or pachysandra; it frequently grows through dense beds of these plants. I have even seen it perform one of the incredible feats of urban plant-world mythology, as it pushed its way through asphalt, a feat generally ascribed to bamboo or phragmites. It is truly a weed orchid.

In just a little over a hundred years, Epipactis helleborine has spread from Atlantic Coast to Pacific Coast and almost all points between.

About 20 years ago, I was serving my first day of jury duty in Kew Gardens, Queens, when the judge cheerily announced that a witness for the defense was late. Could the jury come back in five hours? At 10 o’clock in the morning I headed out to wander the enclave of colonial- and Tudor-style homes, with their old trees, privet hedges, trimmed lawns and winding roads, with legally sanctioned time in hand. Though my first orchid of the day was a variegated Chinese Cymbidium growing in the window of a sushi restaurant, it was not long before I discovered helleborine growing everywhere.

I now make this visit annually. This year, helleborine was particularly thick on Austin Street at 81st Avenue. It still sprouts from patios, rock walls, driveways, tree pits, mowed lawns, unmown lawns, privet hedges and hosta beds on 82nd Avenue, on Lefferts Boulevard and alongside slate-rock stairways on Grenfell Street, yards from the Long Island Railroad. As a weed, helleborine proudly holds its head up with dandelions, dayflowers, horseweed, mugwort, plantains and smartweeds, but helleborine is an orchid, whose modified lip and floral structures are as tropical looking as any orchid growing in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden or the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Helleborine can also commonly be seen in Manhattan (Battery Park City is a good place to start, as is Central Park). But don’t stop there; hundreds of these orchids sprout from sidewalk cracks, curbside grassy patches, near fire hydrants, under hedges, and in densely planted borders in all five boroughs.

As I recounted my first exhausting day of civil service to my then-girlfriend, I told her about lunch at a great Kew Gardens ale house, a midafternoon revival house movie, and orchids growing in the streets. Her blank stare may have been incredulity, or jealousy, or perhaps a little of each.

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Big Ticket | At $23.4 Million, a Condo With Space for Big Art

A striking West Village triplex at the Abingdon, a 10-unit luxury condominium conversion of a six-story 1906 building on Abingdon Square Park that had been used as a nursing home, sold for $23,419,750 and was the most expensive sale of the week, according to city records. The 9,600-square-foot dwelling, No. 2, has its own entry west of the main lobby at 320 West 12th Street, at Hudson Street.

The “West Mansion,” as it is described in the offering plan, occupies a 60-by-70-foot footprint given extra volume by 13-foot ceilings and a grand staircase. The asking price was $25 million. The monthly carrying charges are $21,108.

The residence has five bedrooms, four bathrooms and two powder rooms. It also has two wood-burning fireplaces, which add a touch of Old World ambience to an otherwise thoroughly modernized home with state-of-the-art finishes and the requisite ahead-of-the-curve appliances and technical systems. The staircase opens onto a formal gallery designed with large art in mind, and there is a private 332-square-foot courtyard. The primary exposures are northern and western.

There is credible evidence that the buyer is none other than Steven A. Cohen, the owner of the hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors and a veteran collector of both fine art and expensive properties, including a $60 million oceanfront estate in East Hampton, a $40 million apartment at 145 Perry Street, a $30 million property in Greenwich, Conn., and a penthouse at One Beacon Court uptown that is on the market for $115 million. Mr. Cohen recently bought Picasso’s masterwork “Le Rêve” from the casino magnate Stephen A. Wynn for $150 million.

The unit was offered by 607 Hudson Street Owner, a k a Flank Development, the company responsible for the Abingdon’s conversion, and represented by Tim Crowley of Flank Brokerage. Mr. Crowley indicated that the buyer was an art collector in need of space for his collection. The broker for the buyer, identified in public records as Hudson Heights Holding, was Deborah Grubman of the Corcoran Group, Mr. Cohen’s longtime real estate adviser. Public records revealed that the Greenwich, Conn., address for Hudson Heights Holding matches Mr. Cohen’s home address there, and the buyer’s signature appears to be that of Alexandra Cohen, his wife.

In another significant transaction, an elegant 4,478-square-foot floor-through residence in a sought-after condominium conversion, 18 Gramercy Park South — the luxurious makeover of a Salvation Army residence for women by the high-profile team of Zeckendorf Development, Eyal Ofer Global Holdings and Robert A. M. Stern — sold for $15,731,962.50. It was the week’s second-most-expensive sale, and the most recent of an explosion of high-price closings at 18 Gramercy South at Irving Place. Monthly carrying costs are $12,546.10, and a $350 key to Gramercy Park was a closing gift from the developers.

The residence, No. 2, has a grand gallery, a corner living room with 40 feet of frontage on Gramercy Park, a master suite with two full marble baths, three additional bedrooms and two terraces that total 448 square feet.

The unit was represented by Zeckendorf Marketing, and Mary Fitzgibbons of Brown Harris Stevens handled the transaction for the buyer, whose identity was shielded by a limited-liability company, CNG Investment. The company’s address was given as 985 Fifth Avenue, a luxury rental owned by Spitzer Enterprises, and Eliot and Silda Spitzer’s longtime home.

Big Ticket includes closed sales from the previous week, ending Wednesday.

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After H.I.V. Diagnosis, a Life Devoted to Outreach

For National H.I.V. Testing Day last month, Michelle Lopez took to the streets. She walked around Fulton Mall in Downtown Brooklyn and tried to convince passers-by to take a rapid H.I.V. test. If they needed moral support, she walked them over to the Brooklyn clinic where she is director of H.I.V. programming.

Ms. Lopez, 46, is no stranger to what she calls “guerilla tactics” when it comes to H.I.V. tests. When she lived in the New York City shelter system in the early 1990s, she spent a lot of time doing volunteer outreach at beauty parlors and laundromats.

“Excuse me,” she recalled saying to strangers getting their nails done or folding baby clothes. “Has anyone here ever had a conversation with someone living with H.I.V.?”

Ms. Lopez disclosed her H.I.V. status, then passed out pamphlets for Community Healthcare Network, the clinic where she and her daughter Raven tested positive in 1991.

“I just got tired of being victimized,” Ms. Lopez said. “And I was not going to let other people get this disease.”

Ms. Lopez brought so many people into the clinic for testing and care that in 1993 she was offered a job at Community Healthcare Network as a treatment educator. She worked doing outreach, education and counseling there for 18 years.

Over that time, H.I.V. care and medication transformed. Like many people diagnosed with H.I.V. in the early 1990s, Ms. Lopez realized that she and her daughter didn’t have a death sentence.

“Michelle always impressed everyone at the office with knowing who she was and what she wanted, and asking for it,” said Dr. Susan Ball, associate professor of medicine at New York Hospital Cornell Medical Center, who has been treating Ms. Lopez since 2005.

Ms. Lopez’s daughter, who is now 23, went through a similar transformation. In elementary school, Raven Lopez was stigmatized and bullied. She said a teacher wore rubber gloves around her and refused to take her on school trips.

“Imagine a little kid going through that,” Ms. Lopez said.

On a recent afternoon, Raven Lopez was taking part in a two-day training to get certified as an H.I.V. tester. She said her mother, who is now the director of H.I.V. programming at the Brooklyn Multi-Specialty Group private practice, inspired her to enter the health care field.

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July 12: Where the Candidates Are Today

July 12

New York Today: 114 Candles

What you need to know for Friday and the weekend: happy birthday to the state’s oldest woman, breezy with rain possible later, antique French carnival rides, and Eliot Spitzer submits 27,000 signatures for a ballot spot.

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New York Today: 114 Candles

Susannah Mushatt Jones’s birthday party today is six days late. But what’s a few days when you’re 114?

Ms. Jones, born July 6, 1899, in Alabama, is not only the oldest known person in New York State. According to the Gerontology Research Group, she is the third-oldest person on the planet.

At 11 a.m., she will be the guest of honor at a party at the Vandalia Senior Center in Brooklyn. Politicians will attend.

In 2011, Ms. Jones was asked how she felt about turning 112. “You don’t feel now,” Ms. Jones said. “You’re just thankful.”

Here’s what else you need to know to start your Friday.


Highs in the low 80s and plenty of clouds, with a breeze from the northeast and a slight chance of showers in the afternoon. Decent chance of rain by nightfall — your call on the umbrella. Same for Saturday. More sun and hotter on Sunday.


Roads [5:51] O.K. so far, 1010 WINS reports.

Alternate-side parking rules: in effect.

Mass Transit [5:51] Subways are fine. Click for the latest status.


• In the mayoral race, Anthony D. Weiner announces a proposal to launch ferries in all five boroughs. William C. Thompson Jr. calls for an overhaul of the Housing Authority. Bill de Blasio gives a thumbs down to the city’s library plan.

• State lawmakers will celebrate the introduction of Bengali-language ballots at a Board of Elections office in Queens. Bengali joins English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean as an official New York balloting language.

• Children from 22 countries will become citizens in a morning ceremony at the Bronx Zoo.

• “Blade Runner” screens at dusk on Morgan Avenue in East Williamsburg. Beer available. [Free, or pay what you wish]

• Cheap Trick plays at Coney Island at 7:30 p.m. [Free]

• For more events, see The New York Times’s Arts & Entertainment guide.


• Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, seeking a comeback after his fall in a prostitution scandal, submitted 27,000 signatures late Thursday night to get on the ballot for city comptroller. That was far more than the 3,750 needed. But his opponent, Scott M. Stringer, could still try to challenge many of them. [New York Times]

• Nicholas Brooks, son of a Grammy-winning songwriter, was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend in an exclusive downtown club. [New York Times]

• NOISE! The Times takes an extensive look at how silence in New York City has become a luxury “that only a scant few can truly afford.” The Post reports that an Upper West Sider sued his downstairs neighbor, an Off-Broadway compose, over his non-stop piano playing.

• The police cracked down on spas and massage parlors in Brooklyn that were allegedly fronts for prostitution. [New York Times]

E.C. Gogolak contributed reporting.

We’re testing New York Today, which we put together just before dawn and update until noon.

What information would you like to see here when you wake up to help you plan your day? Tell us in the comments, send suggestions to [email protected] or tweet them at @nytmetro using #NYToday. Thanks!

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