The naturally occurring historical and extant flora of Central Park, New York City, New York 1857-2007

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2007
Authors:R. DeCandido, Calvanese, N., Alvarez, R. V., Brown, M. I., Nelson, T. M.
Journal:Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society
Date Published:2007
Keywords:biotic homogenization, Central Park, historical flora, New York City, restoration, urban, Urban flora

This vascular flora of Central Park, New York County, New York State is based upon field work by the authors in 2006-2007 combined with three 19th century plant lists, and specimens held at metropolitan herbaria collected from 1885-2006. Altogether, 106 families, 351 genera, and 583 species are reported. The largest family in Central Park in both the historical (1857 to 1910) and modern period (1985 to 2007) is the Asteraceae. The largest genera are Polygonum, Quercus, and Aster. Analyses of the ecological characteristics of the historical flora show that species indicative of riparian areas including ponds, swamps, wet meadows and woods, were formerly common in the area that was developed into Central Park. Twenty-one species would have special New York State Natural Heritage Program designations if they were extant today. In the 19th and early 20th century, native plant species (255; 74%) far exceeded non-natives (91; 26%) in Central Park. However, 70% (178) of the native plants recorded in the historical time period have been extirpated. Most extirpated native species were herbaceous plants (111; 62%), and were significantly more likely to prefer wet meadows and woods than drier habitats. By comparison, in our field work in 2006-2007 and examination of BBG and NYBG plant collections, we found 362 species, most of which were non-native plants (217; 60%). Three species we collected have special status designations in New York State: Eclipta prostrata, Eupatorium serotinum, and Ptelea trifoliata. We recommend the continuation of native plant restoration efforts in Central Park, with an emphasis upon re-establishing herbaceous species characteristic of meadows, open woodlands and riparian areas, as well as increasing the diversity and number of Quercus spp. in the forest. Combined with educational outreach that calls to attention the environmental history of Central Park, much can be done to make people aware of the significant role urban areas can play in conservation efforts.

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith