Autumn in New York is a season so transformative that there are songs about it. The changing colours of trees herald the cooler weather after the summer heat and the shorter days with their soft twilights. It’s the perfect time to unfold your Great Trees of New York Map, writes author Allison C. Meier
Ginkgo tree, Isham Park. All photography by Colin Montgomery.
When I wrote the text for the Great Trees of New York map for Blue Crow Media, I wanted to highlight trees that were not just old or rare, but that were landmarks in some way, whether for culture, history, or place. Several of these trees have their time to shine in the fall. Here are five to visit while in their autumn splendour...
Ginkgo, Isham Park, Manhattan
A huge ginkgo presides over the entrance to Isham Park at the far north of Manhattan, in the Inwood neighbourhood. In fall, its leaves turn bright yellow and cover the sidewalk below in a golden carpet. Ginkgos are interesting trees that were once largely known from fossils, aside from a small population in China. Now they are propagated across the world, with this one believed to date to the 19th century. Right below it is another historic relic: a colonial-era mile marker made of red sandstone that is embedded in the stone wall.
Osage Orange, Prospect Park, Brooklyn
The Osage orange originates from Arkansas, eastern Texas, and Oklahoma (its name was derived from the Osage Nation of the Great Plains). It has a distinctive orange-hued bark on its sinewy trunk that has historically been used to make yellow dye. Examples in New York City include plantings at the Staten Island farm of Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect behind both Manhattan’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Autumn is when the trees cause a scene, dropping softball-sized green fruit in heaps. This example in Prospect Park, which has a trunk braced by metal bars, sometimes has hazard tape around it to protect passersby from the rain of fruit.
One Oak from the 7000 Oaks project, Chelsea
7000 Oaks, Chelsea, Manhattan
Along 22nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues in Chelsea is a major artwork hiding in plain sight: 7000 Eichen (7000 Oaks) by Joseph Beuys. It is an offshoot of a project the late German conceptual artist started in 1982 in Kassel; this iteration debuted in 1988, pairing street trees with basalt stone columns. There are now 38 trees as part of the living piece in Chelsea, and despite the “oak” name, they include an array of species with their own autumn colours to appreciate, such as the yellowish-oranges of sycamores, bronze-reds of Japanese zelkovas, and dappled coppers of pin oaks.
Elms lining the Mall in Central Park
Elms, The Mall, Central Park, Manhattan
There are few walks more enchanting in the fall than through the grove of American elms lining the Mall in Central Park (another trace of the design vision of Frederick Law Olmsted on the New York landscape). As their leaves shift from green to yellow, they create a cathedral-like effect on the walkway where people stroll, perform music, or sit on the lines of benches. The trees are considered one of the largest surviving stands of American elms following the 20th-century spread of Dutch elm disease, which killed many of the elms that were once common on American streets and in parks.
The Colossus, Clove Lakes Parks, Staten Island
Some trees live long enough to have names, and top among New York City’s most aged giants are the tulip trees, which have huge leaves with mask-like shapes that turn a luminous gold in fall. Some, such as the Alley Pond Giant in Queens, are deep in forested areas and difficult to see, but the Colossus of Clove Lakes Parks on Staten Island stands out in the open. It’s estimated to be over 300 years old and towers more than 100 feet. As one of the oldest living things in the city, it’s an astounding tree to witness year-round, but fall is a special time to visit its massive trunk and marvel that it has made it to yet another seasonal shift despite all the urban change around it.
Find out where to find this Black Tupelo in New York City with our map...
The Great Trees of New York Map is a guide to 50 of the oldest, rarest, strangest, and most historic trees across New York City’s five boroughs, from the 350-year-old “Alley Pond Giant” in Queens to the wizened Camperdown elm in Prospect Park. This two-sided companion includes a map, an introduction and descriptions by Allison C. Meier, and original photography by Colin Montgomery.