What Edward Norton Should Know for the UN’s Biodiversity Summit

Actor Edward Norton is unhappy. He is miffed because although he had starred as The Hulk in an earlier movie, he was not cast as the great green hero in a follow-up film. Cheer up, Ed! You’ve landed an even greener role: United Nations’ Biodiversity Ambassador. As the former botanist for New York City, I know first-hand the importance of biodiversity. In fact, I’ll be hosting international diplomats on a tour of New York’s nature this fall for the UN’s Biodiversity Summit. Since we’re going to be colleagues, I’d like to help you prepare for your new role. Here are some things you should know.

Click here to read the full article at The Huffington Post.


February 24, 2011 at 6:23 PM Leave a comment

conifer stamps

I’m over the moon about these conifer stamps.  For the 2010 holiday season, the US Postal Service issued first-class letter stamps in 4 species of conifers that are native to the US.  One species, Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is native to NYC. The post office has done a good job of recognizing native flora.  Now to get the rest of the world to jump in.

December 15, 2010 at 5:18 AM 1 comment

NYC Botanist’s Take on New York Magazine Article

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

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

Help Save Ridgewood Reservoir in Queens

Help Save Ridgewood Reservoir!

The natural area within the former Ridgewood Reservoir is a thriving mosaic of flora and fauna – unique and important especially in the neighborhood.  Although plans are currently on hold, New York City Parks and Recreation intends to build ballfields within a portion of the basins. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will soon be reviewing the site to determine whether the wetlands that have formed on the site qualify as protected under state regulations.  

As part of Highland Park, Ridgewood Reservoir lies between Brooklyn and Queens and was last used as a water source during the drought of the 1960s. The reservoir was drained and decommissioned in 1989 after the expansion of New York City’s Catskill and Delaware water systems.  The wetland vegetation and shorebirds that call the site home think it’s a wetland!

Here’s What You Can Do!

You can help save Ridgewood Reservoir by writing a letter to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation explaining why this important natural area is worthy of protection. Be sure to include some of these important facts:

  • Ridgewood Reservoir is the highest point in the Jamaica Bay watershed. The reservoir and its environmentally significant attributes should be incorporated into the ongoing planning for the Jamaica Bay Watershed plan.
  • Free from the noise of the Jackie Robinson Parkway, Ridgewood Reservoir is a unique natural area with forest that regenerated without any human assistance.
  • The basins contain diverse ecologies of fresh water wetlands, mesic and wet forest and successional open fields, the habitats within the Ridgewood Reservoir basins serve as an important storm water filtration system.
  • Ridgewood Reservoir is the highest point in the Newtown Creek sewershed and protects Newtown Creek from Combined Sewage Overflow.
  • New York City law 71 requires protection of the city’s wetlands
  • Marsh areas and forest fringes are unique within New York City. Large freshwater wetlands are uncommon in our region and provide critical habitat for native wildflowers and wildlife.
  • The site is developing a mature canopy forest with some strong native plant presence. Plant species include three with a Conservation Status of either Endangered or Threatened in New York State, and many more that are uncommon in NYC, such as woolgrass (Scirpus cyperinus).

You may address your letter to the following individuals:

Mr. Tony Morenzi
Special Assistant
New York State DEC Region 2
1 Hunter’s Point Plaza
47-40 21st Street
Long Island City, NY 11101

Mr. John F. Cryan
Regional Permit Administrator
New York State DEC Region 2
1 Hunter’s Point Plaza
47-40 21st Street
Long Island City, NY 11101

August 10, 2010 at 7:40 AM Leave a comment

NYC Wildflower Week – Baby Bugs!

Had a great time with Lloyd Miller of the Deedle Deedle Dees who sang some nature-themed songs for the younger set. An amazing turnout – we had about 30 children participate!

Also did a tour of the native plant garden in Union Square Park.

May 6, 2010 at 1:23 AM Leave a comment

Easy Math

Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana) is an exotic and known to be invasive tree. Despite this common knowledge, it is planting prolifically in our landscape by city planners, parks and landscape architects.  Walk down any street right now, and you’ll see trees covered in white blossoms – callery pear.  Yes, beautiful, but ecologically problematic.  Here, it was planted along Rt. 440 in Staten Island.

What happens to invasives that are inserted into the landscape?  They leave their place of origin and invade new territory.  Voila! Callery pear now in Conference House Park.  That was easy math.

April 12, 2010 at 1:26 AM Leave a comment

blooming now, sassafras

(Sassafras albidum) A NYC common tree of open, sunny sites. typically an early bloomer, but goodness really early this year (hello climate change). The flowers have a lovely fragrance.  These three critters think so too.  The tree is easy to identify any time of year, with it’s crooked, twisting branches and pagoda habit (winter), mitten-shaped leaves (summer) and blue berries rich in fats for migrating birds (fall).  Nearly all parts of the plant have a sharply spicy smell – same as its kin, spicebush.  These two members of the Laurelaceae family are both hosts to larvae (caterpillars) of spicebush swallowtail.  Humans also consumed the plant – Sassafras put the “root” in root beer until the FDA discovered that a chemical in sassafras called safrole caused cancer.  Killjoys. Photos taken in Conference House Park, Staten Island.

April 8, 2010 at 8:18 PM Leave a comment

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