Central Park South - A Photo Tour of Common Park Trees

Central Park South - A Photo Tour of Common Park Trees

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South Central Park is actually a section of the park New York City tourists visit most often. Gates along Central Park South are just a short walk north from Times Square. What these visitors don't usually realize is that Central Park is a giant urban forest with nearly 25,000 surveyed and cataloged trees.

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Royal Paulownia

Royal Paulownia.

Steve Nix

This photo shows paulownia trees looking out toward the skyline of Central Park South and that shade a 7th Avenue entrance. They adorn the small hill just inside the Artisan's Gate and in front of Heckscher's Playground.

Royal Paulownia is an introduced ornamental that has become well established in North America. It is also known as princess-tree, empress-tree, or paulownia. It has a tropical look with very large catalpa-like leaves. The two species are not related. The tree is a prodigious seeder and grows extremely fast. Unfortunately, because of this ability to grow nearly anywhere and at a rapid rate, it is now considered an invasive exotic tree species. You are encouraged to plant the tree with caution.

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Steve Nix

On a corner, just north and east of Tavern-on-the-Green, is a large and beautiful hackberry (see photo). Just across the paved West Drive is Sheep Meadow. Hackberry is also present in large numbers in Central Park South's Ramble, a large 38-acre wooded area.

Hackberry has an elm-like form and is, in fact, related to the elms. The wood of hackberry has never been used to any large extent due to its softness and an almost immediate propensity to rot when in contact with the elements. However, C. occidentalis is a forgiving urban tree and is considered tolerant of most soil and moisture conditions.

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Eastern Hemlock

Eastern Hemlock.

Steve Nix

This small eastern hemlock is located in the stunning Shakespeare Garden. The Shakespeare Garden is Central Park's only rock garden. The garden was inaugurated in 1916 on the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's death and features plants and flowers that replicate those in the garden at the poet's home in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Eastern hemlock has a "nodding" form defined by its limbs and leaders and can be recognized at great distances. Some rank this tree among the "quality plants" to add to the landscape. According to Guy Sternberg in Native Trees in North American Landscapes, they are "long-lived, refined in character and have no off-season." Unlike most conifers, eastern hemlock has to have shade provided by hardwoods to regenerate. Unfortunately, stands of these trees are being damaged by the hemlock wooly adelgid.

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Eastern Redbud

Eastern Redbud.

Steve Nix

Just to the north and behind the Metropolitan Museum, on a street corner close to 85th street, blooms one of the most beautiful redbuds you'll ever see. It decorates what could be a very dull intersection leading into Central Park.

Redbud is a rather small, shade-loving tree and usually not noticed most of the year. But the tree actually shines early in spring (one of the first flowering plants) with leafless branches of magenta buds and pink flowers growing right off the trunk and limbs. Quickly following the flowers come new green leaves which turn a dark, blue-green and are uniquely heart-shaped. C. canadensis often has a large crop of 2-4 inch seedpods that some find unappealing in the urban landscape.

Widely planted as an ornamental, redbud's natural range is from Connecticut to Florida and west to Texas. It is a quick growing tree and sets flowers in just a very few years after planting.

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Saucer Magnolia

Saucer Magnolia, Central Park.

Steve Nix

This saucer magnolia is in a little grove just off East Drive and directly behind the Metropolitan Museum. Dozens of magnolia cultivars are planted in Central Park but saucer magnolia seems to be the one magnolia easily and most often found throughout Central Park.

Saucer magnolia is a small tree growing to a height of 30 feet. A prolific bloomer, its flowers are large and cover the naked stems of the tree just before leaves emerge. Its cup-to-goblet shaped flowers softly grace Central Park with a pale pink bloom turning a darker pink toward its base.

The saucer magnolia is one of the earliest flowering trees to bloom. In milder climates including the Deep South, it blooms in late winter and as late as mid-spring in colder zones. Wherever it grows, the saucer magnolia is a much anticipated first sign of spring.

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Eastern Red Cedar

Central Park Eastern Red Cedar.

Steve Nix

Cedar Hill in Central Park is named for its cedars including Eastern red cedar. Cedar Hill is just south of the Metropolitan Museum and just above The Glade.

Eastern redcedar is not a true cedar. It is a juniper and the most widely distributed native conifer in the eastern United States. It is found in every state east of the 100th meridian. This hardy tree is often among the first trees to occupy cleared areas where its seeds are spread by cedar waxwings and other birds that enjoy the fleshy, bluish seed cones.

Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), also called red juniper or savin, is a common coniferous species growing on a variety of sites throughout the eastern half of the United States. Eastern redcedar grows on soils, ranging from dry rock outcrops to wet swampy land.

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Black Tupelo

Central Park Black Tupelo.

Steve Nix

This large, triple-trunked black tupelo is in Central Park's Glade. The Glade, just north of Conservatory Water, is a depression with gentle, flat terrain that makes for a perfect spot to relax - and for a black tupelo to grow.

Blackgum or black tupelo is oftentimes (but not always) associated with wet areas as is suggested by its Latin genus name Nyssa, the name for a Greek mythological water sprite. The Creek Indian word for "swamp tree" is eto opelwu. Southern bee-keepers prize the tree's nectar and sell tupelo honey for a premium. The tree is showy in fall with brilliant red leaves ornamented with blue fruit on female trees.

Black tupelo grows from southwestern Maine to southern Florida and west past the Mississippi River. Black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica var. sylvatica) is also widely known as blackgum, sourgum, pepperidge, tupelo, and tupelogum.

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Colorado Blue Spruce

Colorado Blue Spruce.

Steve Nix

This Colorado Blue Spruce is located just south of The Glade. It is one of the most beautiful trees on the east side of Central Park.

Horticulturists recommend Colorado Blue Spruce for planting as a yard tree over most others. It grows quite well throughout the northern United States even though its natural range is limited to the Rocky Mountains. This tree has a striking blue color, is planted throughout the United States and Europe and is a favorite Christmas tree.

Blue spruce (Picea pungens) is also called Colorado blue spruce, Colorado spruce, silver spruce, and pino real. It is a slow-growing, long-lived tree of medium size that, because of its symmetry and color, is planted extensively as an ornamental. It is the state tree of Colorado.

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Red Horsechestnut.

by Steve Nix

Central Park is a horsechestnut preserve. They are everywhere. This particular red-flowering horsechestnut is growing just west of Conservatory Water. Conservatory Water was an axed building-project-turned-pond. It is now a pond used by model boat enthusiasts.

The horsechestnut is native to Europe and the Balkans and not really a chestnut. It is a relative of the North American buckeyes. The shiny, polished nuts they produce look edible but are actually very bitter and poisonous. Horsechestnut's blossom has been described as a "candelabra of the gods" because of its lush flower panicle. The tree grows to 75 feet and can be 70 feet wide.

Aesculus hippocastanum is actually very seldom planted in the United States anymore. It is afflicted with a "blotch" that causes unsightly browning of leaves by summer. The tree grows in an upright-oval shape. The leaves are palmate and composed of 7 leaflets that turn a respectable yellow in the fall.

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Cedar of Lebanon

Cedar of Lebanon.

Steve Nix

This is one tree in a grove of Lebanon Cedars at the entrance of Pilgram Hill. Pilgram Hill is a sloped knoll leading back to the Conservatory Water and home to a bronze statue of The Pilgrim. This hill is named after the symbolic figure who commemorates the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.

The Cedar-of-Lebanon is a biblical tree that has fascinated tree lovers for centuries. It is a beautiful conifer and can live a thousand years in its native Turkey. Scholars believe that the cedar was the great tree of Solomon's temple.

The Lebanon Cedar has a sharp, four-sided needle, more or less an inch long and in spur shoots of 30 to 40 needles per spur. Each of the four sides of the needle has tiny dotted white lines of stomata visible under magnification.