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Posts Tagged ‘Flowers’

Showy Lady's-slipper, Staten Island's blessing?

Orchids excite greater ardor than an other family of flower. That they have maintained an alluring mystique is itself a mystery. After all, they’re every bit as much a traded commodity as the roses at the corner deli. Just check the shelves and you’ll discover the presence of an orchid in the ingredients lists: vanilla. Even obsessive scientific study, including a book devoted to orchids by Charles Darwin, hasn’t exhausted our eagerness to learn more. I believe it’s the astonishing diversity of this family that keeps us captivated. Though it’s the second most common type of flower, the orchid has filled so many peculiar niches (just about everywhere but atop glaciers) that individual varieties feel precious.

In the subculture of orchid enthusiasts, our city is best known for the annual Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Gardens, underway now. But we’re also blessed with a rare, wild orchid called Showy Lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium reginae). This indigenous North American beauty blooms in the Evergreen Park Preserve on Staten Island in early spring, before the tree canopy shades it out,  according to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. Senior Ecologist Ellen Pehek and Chief Naturalist Michael Feller of NYC Parks also tell me that the Eurasian helleborine orchid has made itself at home in Queens. It thrives in wooded areas, so check Forest Park and Cunningham Park.

(Note: NYC Wildflower Week, a group dedicated to the restoration of indigenous species, disputes the official claim that Showy Lady’s Slipper grows in Evergreen Park Preserve, arguing that the most common Pink Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule) is the correct identification. Furthermore, the group asserts in contradiction to the official Parks text that, “Our native orchids don’t start to bloom til mid-spring at the earliest.”)

All of these green spaces make for great bicycle destinations (mass transit is also a very reasonable option — no need for a car), and there’s plenty to do in the surrounding areas when you’re done orchid photographing (PLEASE DON’T PICK ANY) and hiking through the woods.

Once bitten by the orchid bug, you might want to expand your local eco-tourism to include New York State parks and other preserves north and east of the city. Here’s a handy guide to the Orchids of New York published in Conservationist, a magazine put out by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Most of the species listed are indigenous.

If you want to preserve the Showy Lady-slipper and other ecologically vital wildflowers, please participate in NYC Wildflower Week, May 6-15. You might even want to volunteer with this terrific organization or a local park group throughout the year.

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rocking the boat 

 

What a weekend and week ahead New York City’s natural world and its stewards offers you! We have a barrel of FREE events, and a couple of cheap ones (as you know, paid events are the great exception on WildWire) that support green allies and cover basic costs.

 

Highlights include the Tour de Queens, a dog walk through Forest Park, Rocking the Boat’s big party and rowing day, kayaking in Red Hook, planting a “Pizza Garden,” birding and looking for horseshoe crabs. There’s so much more, and here are some choice options.

 

(And please forgive some compression. WordPress seems to freak out over longer posts.)

 

FRIDAY, JUNE 6

 

GARDENING, MANHATTAN, 3PM-8PM

 

It takes a special kind of genius to create a “Pizza Garden.” What better way to excite kids about going/growing green than to plant things that are great pizza toppings and seasonings? Genius, genius… Be part of the fun, along with the always-celebratory Time’s Up! eco-urban crew, by heading over between 3PM and 8PM (so feel free to rush over right after work) to the Children’s Magical Garden at the corner of Norfolk and Stanton Street on the Lower East Side. Earn your place at the Pizza Garden Harvest Party, coming this fall! Also, please consider making a donation to help install a fish pond and solar-powered waterfall (to reduce mosquito larvae), buy tools and soil. For more information please email Ellen at xupgardening@gmail.com

 

BIKING, MANHATTAN, 10PMMidnight

 

Stick with the Time’s Up! crew and roll up to Central Park for a moonlight ride! Meet at Columbus Circle (SW entrance of Central Park) for laughter, exercise, and communion with the sights and sounds of green spaces when they’re sunken into night’s blackness. 

 

 SATURDAY, JUNE 7

 

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 10AM-5PM

Splash with the Red Hook Boaters at Valentino Park from 10AM through 5PM on Saturday, and while you’re their, take in the Waterfront Arts Festival with Portside New York.

 

A fun bonus is that if you arrive by kayak, there will be a free “valet” service to safeguard your boat while you enjoy the arts, foods, crafts, and performances!

 

I checked the tides. If you’re paddling from the north, buck a weak flood tide current after lunch and make arrangements to depart a couple of hours after the festival is over. My solution to this is to bring a dinner to Valentino Park (some might chance it on fishing?) so that you can watch your boat while enjoying yourself. Southerners have an easier time, launching at 8AM or so and starting the return trip after an early lunch.

 

 IDENTIFICATION DAY, MANHATTAN, 1230PM-330PM

 

“Is that a man in there…or something?”

 

Ah, the big question at the center of John Carpenter’s science fiction/horror film remake, “The Thing.” If only the snowbound protagonists in Antarctica had the American Museum of Natural History nearby!

 

Bring your weird natural finds (bones, feathers, bugs, rocks, shells…and who knows?) to the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. Museum experts there will tackle the mysteries before us.

 

While you’re at it, check out the rest of the museum, of course. Especially the new horse exhibition! 

 

ROWING, BRONX

 

Come join Rocking the Boat’s end-of-semester celebration! See the pride as kids launch a new hand-crafted rowboat, and enjoy some time on the Bronx River’s thriving waters too! Last time I was there, I spotted egrets, an glossy ibis, swans, and other estuarine birds. More information at Rocking the Boat’s website.

 

 

CANOEING, BRONX

 

Paddle from the “Border to the Mouth” with the Bronx River Alliance! If you missed the Amazing Bronx River Flotilla, don’t fret and live in regret, see an egret! Register right away at http://bordertomouth60708.eventbrite.com/

 

 

 

BIRDING, BROOKLYN, 8AM-10AM

 

Learn the basics of birding (Lesson One: Get up early) with the Urban Park Rangers in one of our lesser-known jewels, the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park (East 33rd Street and Ave. U). Call 718-421-2021 for more information.

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-5PM

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 10AM and 5PM) on the Hudson River south of 72nd Street. Please dress for getting wet and know how to swim. Call the Downtown Boathouse for weather updates at 646-613-0740 and further information at 212-408-0219.

 

HIKING TRAIL VOLUNTEERISM, QUEENS, 9AM-1PM

 

If you love to hike, make that love meaningful by helping maintain local areas as part of National Trails Day. Alley Pond Park is a fantastic NYC resource and your work, side-by-side with the NY/NJ Trail Conference team, with increase the pleasure of it for yourself and others. You’ll focus on the trails near the Adventure Course, so meet at the entrance off the Grand Central Parkway and Winchester Boulevard, opposite the sanitation depot. Call 718-352-4793 for more information and mass transit tips.

 

HIKING TRAIL VOLUNTEERISM, STATEN ISLAND, 9AM-1PM

 

Or help out on some of the 35-miles of trail in the Greenbelt on Staten Island! Your hands will get dirty, and you’ll feel great about it. You’ll be provided with tools, gloves, and refreshments. Call 718-667-2165 for more information.

 

Or at 10AM

 

Another great Staten Island location to help out with its trails is Blue Heron Park Preserve. Meet at 222 Poillon Avenue between Amboy Road & Hylan Boulevard. For more information call 718-967-3542.

 

BIRDING, BRONX 9AM-11AM

Grab your binoculars and start spotting birds you never thought you’d see in NYC! For many of you, this will mean a trip to North America (how exotic!), which in NYC parlance is the Bronx mainland. This monthly gathering at Van Cortlandt Park is a terrific way to start your Saturday. Enter the park at West 246th Street and Broadway. Call 718-548-0912 for more information.

 

And while you’re in the Bronx, why not bike straight across to…

 

HIKING TRAIL VOLUNTEERISM, BRONX, 1PM-4PM

 

Another National Trails Day site is Riverdale Park, and the Wave Hill folks are working hard to enhance the already great trails there. Join them as a fellow steward and reap the green karma! Meet at the Spaulding Lane parking lot at 675 West 252 Street. For more information, call 718-549-3200.

 

HIKING, MANHATTAN, 9AMNoon

 

Celebrate the High Bridge and the upper Manhattan heights with a hike covering this surprising section of Manhattan, with old growth forests, old lore, and tranquil spots. An artist from Kids Art Network will lead a creative activity at Riverside-Inwood Neighborhood Garden (RING), and hikers will get t-shirts, water, and snacks. Meet at RING (1835 Riverside Drive, where Riverside Drive, Dyckman Avenue, Broadway, and Seaman Avenue meet). For more information call 212-567-8272.

 

WALK, MANHATTAN, 1PM-3PM

 

Stroll with the Central Park Conservancy and rediscover a place both familiar and novel. Do you know where to find a hidden bench that tells time? Or a sculpture that celebrates fresh water? Well, neither do I, and I’m a native. Get in the know by meeting inside the park at Fifth Ave. and East 72nd Street, in front of the Samuel Morse statue.

 

Or, how about a twofer at Conference House, one of New York City’s secret haunts?

 

INVASIVE PLANT WALK AND WEED, STATEN ISLAND, 2PM-4PM and…

 

HORSESHOW CRAB WALK, 7PM-9PM

 

Conference House Park is at the deepest point of the Deep South of New York, and where Benjamin Franklin and John met with the British for one last chance for peace. The forces of Black Dick would invade the harbor (that being the nickname for Admiral Richard Howe, peace envoy and navy commander, so stop laughing) not long after. It stands today as the last pre-revolutionary manor house remaining in New York City.

 

After taking a quiet Staten Island Railroad ride or a bike ride through green and blue, grab a great lunch in quaint and charming Tottenville. Then stroll 15 minutes or ride over to Conference House Park. That’s where Hylan Boulevard meets Satterlee Street

. Turn left into the parking lot of the Visitors’ Center, where restrooms and tap water ar available.
 
 
 
 
 Once there…

 

STOP THE INVASION! No, not the British. Aggressive, non-native plants threaten the beauty and ecological health of our green spaces. Volunteers are yanking them out under the guidance of park staff. Personally, I suggest that they bring Wildman Steve Brill down to encourage people to eat the vanquished weeds – make a fun feast after the battle! Wear sturdy shoes and sunblock. To RSVP for this rain-or-shine event, or for any questions (such as bus and car pooling directions), please call Cheri Brunault at 718-390-8021, or email cheri.brunault@parks.nyc.gov.

 
 
 
       

Now here’s another chance to check out Tottenville. Dine or stroll, and then return to…

 

 

HUNT FOR HORSESHOE CRABS!

 

Photographically, that is. As we wrote about earlier, this is one of the city’s most ancient rituals. Beckoned by the moon and tides, this species comes to lay eggs ashore as it has done for nearly 500 million years. Again, gather at the visitor’s center.

 

 SUNDAY, JUNE 8

 

WALK, BROOKLYN, 11AM-5PM

 

Take a self-guided tour of Brooklyn’s Brownstone Garden District. There are more than a dozen private gardens and nine community gardens to see, including one threatened with eminent domain-enabled destruction. That garden features a cottage dating to the 1830s. Among the enjoyments to found at other gardens are the chance to see a master potter create an astonishing mini-Brooklyn Botanical Garden spanning three lots. Organizers also promise “a stream falling over mossy rock ledges into a stocked pond on a backyard mountain, a serene Japanese garden, and an 1839 farmhouse in a double-wide garden with century-old trees.” Oh, and then there’s the composting toilet.

 

The flush toilets, I suppose, are at the starting points: Thirst (187 DeKalb Ave., at  Vanderbilt Ave.) or The Forest Floor (659 Vanderbilt Ave. at Park Place). 

Tickets are $15 in advance ($20 the day of the event) to support the Annual Fall Bulb Give-away. Call 718-219-2137 for more information.  

 

BIKING, QUEENS, 8AM-2PM

 

Okay, so someone will eventually break the “Tour de” bike event formula, but it won’t be Queens. Kraftwerk is doubtlessly nodding in approval. The great thing about a Tour de Queens ride, however, is that it amounts to a world tour. (Okay, make that a Unisphere tour… the ride starts in Flushing Meadows, after all.) From Irish taverns to the Hindu Temple canteen to Filipino restaurant districts, you can gain weight while pedaling all day on this borough! As a volunteer ride marshal I will test this theory with gusto.

 

If you want to be part of the fun with street heroes Transportation Alternatives, REGISTER NOW! The ride is limited to 500 riders. Contact Transportation Alternatives for more information.

 

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-5PM

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 10AM and 5PM) on the Hudson River south of 72nd Street. Please dress for getting wet and know how to swim. Call the Downtown Boathouse for weather updates at 646-613-0740 and further information at 212-408-0219.

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS, 1PM-5PM

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 1PM and 5PM) arranged by the LIC Community Boathouse on the East River where Vernon Boulevard meets 31st Avenue in Astoria. You’ll see Socrates Sculpture Park’s beach at Hallets Cove and a wooden staircase on a wall. Please dress for getting wet and know how to swim.

 

GARDENING, QUEENS, 1030AM-1230PM

 

Or at least socialize with gardeners over a free birthday breakfast for Friends of Gantry Neighborhood Parks. But don’t be a moocher! Get out and help tend to western Queens trees and gardens with this friendly and hard-working crew! Meet at Gantry Plaza State Park, where 49th Avenue hits the East River in Hunters Point, Long Island City. For more information, email gantryparkfriend@aol.com. 

 

DOG WALK IN THE WOODS, QUEENS, 9AM-11AM.

 

 

There was an episode of the Twilight Zone in which a man narrowly avoided eternal damnation by declining an apparent invitation into Heaven because dogs weren’t allowed. Human loyalty to the pooch won him a place in the real thing.

 

 

Your bit of green heaven (okay, some might have to skip church for this, which I imagine could delay entrance) on Sunday morning is Forest Park. Urban Park Rangers will take you through the woods, which will simultaneously sooth and stimulate both you and the pup. Meet at the K-9 Korral Dog Run (Park Lane South and 85th Street). This event happens every two weeks, so make a habit of it! And those without a canine companion are still welcome to join the pack.

 

 

 FISHING, BRONX, 11AM

 

Have a face-to-face encounter with a local fish at Van Cortlandt Park through in this catch-and-release environmental program. The excitement of this experience can inspire new ecologists to learn the science they’ll need to be the next generation of stewards. Adults can be moved as well. Bring water and a snack, and NYC Parks will provide the equipment. Enter at West 264th Street and Broadway. For more information, call 718-548-0912.

BE A FORESTER (FOR THE DAY), MANHATTAN, 11AM-2PM

Put on your loin cloth (or maybe something more urban-conventional) and get over to the Dana Discovery Center (110th Street and Lennox Avenue) for a walk through Central Park’s diverse trees. Both native species and carefully cultivated and responsibly grown exotic species grace this gorgeous, densely verdant public space. For more information call 212-860-1376

 

SEASHORE SAFARI, BRONX, 11AM-2PM

 

Go the wet fringe of New York City’s largest park to see what lurks below! Seining nets will bring up fish, crustaceans and more in Pelham Bay Park. Meet at the Urban Park Ranger Station at the intersection of Bruckner Boulevard and Wilkinson Avenue. Call 718-885-3467 for more information.

 

CANOE, STATEN ISLAND, 11AM

 

Paddle Staten Island’s lovely Lemon Creek while others are sitting on the butts eating brunch! Call 718-967-3642 to register and get the meeting place.

 

MICRO-SAFARI, QUEENS, 11AM

 

Who’s so big? You’re so big! Well, at least compared with the stunning array of insects to whom the Urban Park Rangers are eager to introduce you. Meet at the Fort Totten Ranger Park, north of the intersection of 212 Street and Cross Island Parkway. Call 718-352-1769 for more information.

MONDAY, JUNE 9

 

BLOOMING WALK, MANHATTAN, 1230PM

 

Mondays are rough. Treat yourself to a delightful walk through Battery Park City’s blooming crabapples, rhododendrons, bleeding hearts, and Virginia bluebells. Horticulturalist Monika Haberland will take you on a River-to-River stroll through Wagner Park. For more information, call 212-267-9700.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11

WALK, MANHATTAN, 1PM-3PM

 

Stroll with the Central Park Conservancy and rediscover a place both familiar and novel. Do you know where to find a hidden bench that tells time? Or a sculpture that celebrates fresh water? Well, neither do I, and I’m a native. Get in the know by meeting inside the park at Fifth Ave. and East 72nd Street, in front of the Samuel Morse statue.

 

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Chestnut or buckeye flowers in Central Park. Photo by Hubert Steed.

 

by Erik Baard

 

I have yet to find a woman who’d swoon for buckeye tree flowers before roses, which is probably for the best – better to leave them on the tree. Besides, I can imagine a wood nymph waiting all year for these enormous floral geysers to awaken in parks throughout the city.

 

Some have compared this tree in bloom to a king in full regalia, but I recall once coming upon a young specimen and thought immediately of St. Lucia. Legend has it that she wore a wreath with candles so that she could have both hands free to carry food to Christians hiding in the darkness of the catacombs.

 

The tree gets its name from its equally impressive autumn fruit, which looks like a buck’s brown eye. They were once so prevalent across Ohio’s moist prairie bottoms that a state nickname was born.

 

But back to spring. The spectacle of these flowers is enthralling on all scales. The tree is decked out from bottom to top, which can soar to 90’ in some of the two-dozen species (including Eurasian “horse chestnut” Aesculus genus cousins). The flowers spiral upward in cones that burst with individual beauty. The flowers themselves are white at first glance, but closer viewing is rewarded with little candy drops of yellow, red, and sometimes orange. Look carefully Hubert Steed’s serene photo above of a Central Park buckeye a moment before full bloom to appreciate them.

 

You’ll notice in the photo, by the way, that a bee is busy at work. That’s a handy reminder to check our coming weekly WildWire post, or scroll down to the “Plight of the Bumble Bee” entry, to learn how you can be part of Bee Watchers 2008!

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Looking for a reason to rush out the door on this gray Saturday? Here are three good, bloomin’ reasons to get off yer butt!

 

And remember, even if these events pass you by, you can still enjoy viewing and growing these blossoms and fruits on your own. Don’t wait to be led.

 

 

Alpine Strawberry gardening (Bronx)

From our friends at Wave Hill garden and cultural center:

 

 

The fruit of the alpine strawberry is much smaller that the familiar “garden” strawberry, but, as many connoisseurs rightly claim, much tastier.  It is a very adaptable plant as it thrives in light and shade and is just as happy planted in a container as it is out in the garden.  If planted now–in the ground, in a pot, hanging basket or window box–alpine strawberries will reward with masses of delicate flowers and delectable fruits from spring right through to autumn.

Horticultural Interpreter Charles Day demonstrates some interesting ideas and helps you plant your very own pot with red and yellow fruited alpine strawberry plants.

Note: And keep in mind that strawberries have been “wildeyed” by a Nature Calendar reader in Rego Park!

 

 

Blueberry blossoms (Staten Island)

From our friends at the Natural Resources Protective Association

 

 

Saturday, May 3, 9:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. 39th Annual Spring Ten Mile Walk of the SI Greenbelt — Ten moderate miles at a comfortable pace. See wonderful vistas, beautiful woodlands and the blooming of the Pinxter Azalea, Highbush Blueberry and Canada Mayflower throughout our Greenbelt. Meet at our new meeting place where the parking is easier: the beginning of the blue line trail, at the end of Staten Island Blvd. (at the end of the road right above Petrides School which intersects Ocean Terrace). Bring lunch, beverage and sturdy walking shoes as well as camera, binoculars and field guides. We go in all weather but walk is shortened if high pollution levels occur.

 

For more information call Dick Buegler (718)761-7496 or Chuck Perry (718)667-1393 for more information.

 

 

Cherry Blossom Festival

From the wonderful Brooklyn Botanical Garden Via our friends Gemini and Scorpio.

 

Sakura Matsuri, the cherry blossom celebration at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, is one of the most beautiful annual events in New York City. If you hit the timing just right, you’ll be blown away by the gorgeous trees in full bloom. And the weekend of May 3-4 marks the Sakura Matsuri, the Cherry Blossom Festival, featuring live music and dance, film screenings, and tea ceremonies throughout the gardens. In addition to the below events, there will be Origami Crane Confections in Magnolia Plaza; workshops in doll making, woodblock printing, and Ikebana flower arranging; a Sakura Tattoo Parlor; book signings, green-tea demonstrations, a bonsai display, garden tours, and Japanese food and drink. (Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 900 Washington Ave, 10am-6pm, $8 — photo above by BBG)

 

Note: And keep an eye out this summer for delicious black cherries in the Ramble in Central Park!

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americanelm.jpg

By Erik Baard

The American Elm teaches us about how grandeur and delicacy, strength and vulnerability, can rise from the same roots. And how ubiquitous splendor can so suddenly become rare.

Step outside this weekend and watch these often supercentanarian monuments bringing forth delicate flowers, a pointillist expression. “They are small flowers that give an overall hue or yellowish orange and red across the whole tree instead of seeing individual flowers,” said Jessica Arcate, curator of woody plants at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, which boasts specimens in natural habitat that pre-exist the institution’s 1891 founding.

“They weren’t planted there. They seeded in and grew naturally in the middle of our forest,” she said. “They like our flood plains, swales, run offs, and vernal pools.”

Calling their branch form “winged,” Arcate first fell in love with this largest species of elm while working on an estate in the Hudson River Valley. “They have such a full, almost weeping canopy. They’re just spectacular trees.”

The American elm in the NYBG photo above, taken March 26, can be found in the Benenson Ornamental Conifers collection. Arcate cautions that no photo can do them justice. Perhaps the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. description of coming upon one over a hundred feet tall and in full leaf might help:

“…I saw a great green cloud swelling in the horizon, so vast, so symmetrical, of such Olympian majesty and imperial supremacy among the lesser forest growths, that my heart stopped short, then jumped at my ribs as a hunter springs at a five-barred gate, and I felt all through me, without need of uttering the words, ‘This is it!’”

Finding a large stand of American Elms is elation itself, and always a product of nature guided by human artifice. Central Park designers Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux planted The Mall, best reached via the East 66th Street or East 72nd Street entrances, with four rows of American elms flanking the promenade. The flying buttresses of prodigious branches arc until they clasp in a vault of joyous green-gold in mid-spring’s leaf flush and by summer fill in to create a hushed enclosure of uncrowded communing. This is our city’s Great Nave.

Native Americans used the trees as landmarks for gatherings, and derived medicines for ailments ranging from coughs to obstetrics. European colonists also fell for them fast and hard. While much of the continent was still wooded, town elders had wild American elm saplings planted in the Boston Common. As the U.S. population boomed, American elms became a street tree of choice, lining both grand boulevards and sleepy suburban tracts that sprang up along railroad lines. Part of this preference stemmed from their hardiness, in terms of temperature range and native pests, including hundreds of insect species. Utility also played a role; the high arcing branches that give American elms their distinctive vase or umbrella shape shade streets while allowing traffic to pass.

Today the pleasure of spending time among American elms is a rare privilege by which light New Yorkers are spoiled. We have some of the world’s largest stands, notably in Central Park and Riverside Park. Though wild American elms were once most abundant in the eastern United States, they now survive in substantial numbers primarily in Midwest and Canadian prairies.

We descended to that sad state following the 1930 introduction of Dutch elm disease, a fungus that hitched aboard logs shipped from Europe. The vector for transmission is the European elm bark beetle.

“Borers tend to go to trees that are stressed out, so they went for the street trees first,” Arcate said. Healthy trees in the niche for which they have evolved deploy natural defenses that can thwart attacks that would fell street trees.

“There’s research indicating that some trees give off an infrared shade that changes when they’re sick. Insects flying around know it,” she said. Once set upon by the fungus, the decline and mass death was visible to human eyes. Trees yellowed and weakened in vast waves. Miles of American roads were left sun scorched in summer and hauntingly barren in winter. Communities were stripped of their sense of place.

Remaining urbanite American elms demand constant monitoring and intensive care from stewards like the New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Keeping them alive, however, is still cheaper than letting them die. Removing a dead American elm can cost in one shot as much as providing decades of care, to say nothing of adjacent property values. As Michael Pollan notes in a brilliant essay about species, their survival is a civic effort. In a sense, they have become our city’s arboreal humpback whales or polar bears, massive and strong yet begging for care after the damage we’ve introduced.

 

Efforts to hybridize or otherwise alter the American elm to resist the blight have shown progress, but the “holy grail” of an immune tree that perfectly retains the beloved form remains elusive.

But the battle isn’t entirely defensive — foresters are replanting thousands of American elms, hundreds by the Natural Resources Group of the NYC Parks alone, in recognition of its central ecological role.

As with what animal conservations call “charismatic megafauna,” saving the signature species can serve as a vehicle for broader ecological protection. Elms in the wild thrive when surrounded by dense associations of tree species, and special regional relationships have evolved. In New York you’ll often find American elms in the company of white ash, slippery elms, rock elms, yellow birch, black tupelo, sycamore, eastern hemlock, bur oak, swamp white oak, and silver maple.

American elm leaf litter decomposes into soil that unusually rich in soil-improving elements, including potassium and calcium, which as electrolytic minerals can eventually prove valuable for flood plain animals as well as undergrowths and ground covers. “We know amphibians are there. Groups comes to count the tadpoles,” Arcate said. In 2004, an Audubon Chicago study found that American elms were strongly preferred by migratory birds. Butterflies rely upon them for nectar and as a place for larvae to develop.

It’s hard to imagine, when standing before a single American elm, how many organisms have made a world for themselves from the vernal pools gathered at its roots to the “green cloud” above. Sadly, we need no imagination to conceive of the vacuum that would follow neglect.

  

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