“Skyscraper national park.” Kurt Vonnegut’s description supports the widely held view that New York City is a paean to the built environment. This collective image includes towering edifices, taxied roadways and neon billboards. The last thing one would expect in this milieu is nature. Yet sprinkled throughout the five boroughs are approximately 28,000 acres of city parkland. Discounting ball fields and swing sets, nearly half of these have significant areas of flora and fauna. They harbor the city’s true treasures: freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, beaches, and forests. Ensconced within these ecosystems are more than 40% of New York State’s rare and endangered plant species.
Still, it isn’t easy being green in the Big Apple. Over the past century, 75% of the city’s woodlands, wetlands and meadows have been destroyed. The persistent pressure of urbanization and its concomitant ailments has driven many of the city’s native plants to the brink of extirpation. We have already lost 43% of our flora including such treasures as the yellow fringed orchid (Platanthera ciliaris) and swamp pink (Helonias bullata).