NYC Botanist’s Take on New York Magazine Article

October 5, 2010 at 9:43 PM Leave a comment

Hooray for Robert Sullivan!  In one fell swoop he did what I’ve been trying to do for years – make NYC’s nature cool.  His article “The City As Ecological Paradise” was excellent – beautifully crafted and a joy to read.

During my tenure as City Botanist (April 2001 to November 2007) I learned that people have no idea there is nature in NYC.  This is a rather shocking fact, considering The Big Apple has so much of it.  At nearly 1/8 of its landmass, NYC has more nature than Chicago and Los Angeles combined.  Not gardens, not turf lawns – real, wild nature.

I was in charge of the floristic heritage of over 8 million people, who didn’t even know it existed.  Most people are surprised that New York City has nature at all.  Yet old-growth forests, expansive marshes and grassy meadows cover nearly one-eighth of the city, making it the greenest in North America.When I talked about my job, people asked if I worked in Central Park (no) or with daffodils (again, no).  I spent my days in hip waders counting saltmarsh cordgrass stems, pruning sumac branches to encourage the rare green milkweeds, pulling the invasive garlic mustard from overtaking native spring ephemeral wildflowers, and inventorying the flora of parks throughout the five boroughs.  Most New Yorkers are excited by a chance glimpse of Robert DeNiro, but my colleagues and I were thrilled to rediscover pinesap in Pelham Bay Park.

It’s important for New Yorkers to have a vested interest in this nature, because we are losing itOf 1,357 native plants ever recorded in the New York City, only 778 species remain.  Since 1990, Staten Island, the most bucolic borough, has lost more than 30% of its indigenous vegetation, including such botanical treasures as nodding trillium and yellow ladyslipper orchid.

The Big Apple’s nature is so much more than “tree pits and pigeons, <tee hee hee>” (which was sadly the tenor of a recent interview with Mr. Sullivan).  He notes that my old division: “Natural Resources Group…has done more than any other group to change how this city – and urban areas worldwide – think about nature.”  What an honor it was to work there with such smart, dedicated people. I’m so pleased to see the division finally recognized and lovingly rendered.  It really was an amazing place to be.

Sullivan ends the article ends with a call to action, “We didn’t know until recently how much urban nature was doing for us. Now that we do, we have to ask: What can we do for it?”  For those of you that want to see this nature, join me on a botanical foray of Inwood Hill Park on Saturday, October 23. Want to do even more?  Find out what you can do for NYC’s nature here!

Written by Marielle Anzelone

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