Tree Trails in Prospect Park
By George Kalmbacher, Taxonomist, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and M. M. Graff
© 1968 Greensward Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved.
"The Camperdown Elm" by Marianne Moore
From the Complete Poems of Marianne Moore
Copyright © 1967 by Marianne Moore
Originally appeared in The New Yorker
Reprinted by permission of The Viking Press, Inc.
Publication of this guide to trees in Prospect Park was made possible by generous gifts from the following: John W. Corrington, Jr.; J. M. Kaplan Fund, Inc.; Charles Lauriston Livingston, Jr., in memory of his sister, Cornelia Duryea Livingston Graeser; Elise W. Stutzer; John T. Underwood Foundation.
For Marianne Moore
from the Friends of Prospect Park
with all our hearts
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Camperdown Elm
A Word about the Author
Here is an invitation to an outdoor adventure.
Learning to recognize trees on an unmarked trail is like a treasure hunt. We provide the clues: you have the fun of following them. If you lose the trail, backtrack to a numbered lamp post and try again. The numbers are on small bands about three feet above ground, just below the ornamental wreath which separates the shaft of the lamp post from its base.
Beginners are advised to concentrate on the trees most frequently planted in Prospect Park: oaks, lindens, sophora, maples, tulip trees. If you learn only two trees on your first outing, choose the white oak and the tulip tree. These appear on all the tours, sometimes more than once. When you are sure of these guideposts, you will find the next tour easier to follow.
There is no typical leaf form any more than there is a typical New Yorker. For this reason, a pictured leaf can give only a hint of the variations to be found within a species or even on the same tree. Beginners tend to rely too much on leaf form, sometimes missing easier and more constant keys such as bark or fruit. With practise, the separate characteristics -- leaves, bark, twigs, buds, fruit, and branching habit -- begin to merge into a single impression. You will find yourself recognizing trees, as you do your friends, at a glance.
Tour I is equally divided between native and exotic trees and serves as introduction to the most frequently encountered trees in the Park, as well as to the rarest, the Camperdown elm. On Tour II, natives outnumber exotics two to one. There are two opportunities to compare and review the native oaks, and to admire the oldest tree in Prospect Park, the great American elm on the Nethermead. Tour III contains twice as many exotics as natives. Many of these are moderate growers like magnolias and flowering cherries. These and two outstanding Japanese cut-leaf maples are of particular interest to home gardeners. Tour IV is put last because it leaves the security of paths and numbered lamp posts and ventures into uncharted territory. You are very likely to get lost. If you can puzzle out the route, you will discover some trees not found on any of the other tours. Once again on the path, towards the end of the tour, there is an especially good opportunity to compare three different European lindens in a close grouping, with an American linden or basswood nearby for contrast.
The trees in Prospect Park are of superlative size and beauty. The Park itself is the finest naturalistic landscape park in the country. Its history, design, and architecture are fully described and pictured in the . . . Prospect Park Handbook by Clay Lancaster, first curator of Prospect Park.
Entrance at Lincoln Road and Ocean Avenue, reached by BMT Brighton Beach Express. Get off at Prospect Park Station and follow arrows to Lincoln Road.
As you face the park, take the path on the right side of the highway with the playground on your right. Across the highway to the left is a group of about fifteen white pines, Pinus strobus. The one nearest the walk has an especially dramatic outline, with an arching top that leans over towards the walk.
Immediately ahead on the highway edge is a row of European horsechestnuts, Aesculus hippocastanum. These trees are extremely showy when in bloom, as their spires of white flowers stand upright on the ends of the branches like candles on a giant's Christmas tree. The shiny brown nuts are not edible.
On the right side of the path, inside the fence, the largest tree, the one with a ring of cement blocks at its base, is a white oak, Quercus alba. The Park contains a number of oak species and offers an excellent opportunity of studying the characteristics of different oaks and learning how to identify them. The white oak is recognized by the rounded lobes and sinuses of the leaves -- characteristics of the white oak group as a whole -- and specifically by the pale bark which peels off in flakes that become larger and looser towards the top of the tree.
On the left side of the playground entrance is a rare oak from southern Europe and western Asia. This is the Turkey oak, Quercus cerris. Its neatly designed leaves closely resemble those of the English oak, Q. robur. The acorns are of exceptional beauty. The nuts are long, slender, and highly polished, and are set off by an extravagantly bristled cup. This specimen is in urgent need of care. Recommended treatment would include shaping the ragged wounds on the trunk for rapid healing, removing the many dead limbs, and keeping all exposed sapwood sealed with tree paint to guard against fungus infection.
To the left of the Turkey oak, nearer the playground fence, is a native pin oak, Quercus palustris. Like other members of the red oak group, the pin oak's leaves are sharply pointed and toothed. Their small size and deep indentations give an airy appearance. Slender twigs and the drooping habit of the lower branches are added clues to identification.
For a brief detour, follow the iron fence around the corner beyond the comfort station. At its end is a four-trunked box elder, Acer negundo. The box elder is neither boxwood, alder, nor elderberry but is a kind of maple having three separate leaflets instead of a single leaf. Though the leaves are not easily recognized as belonging to a maple, the chains of winged key fruits are proof of identity.
Returning to the main path and facing the dual highway, you have on your right a cluster of low evergreens: two Japanese yews, Taxus cuspidata, with a taller, flat-topped pine behind them. This is a Japanese umbrella pine or Tanyosho pine, Pinus densiflora umbraculifera. Compare the brightness of this pine's foliage with the somber cast of the white pines at the entrance. The flat top of the Tanyosho is formed by the nearly uniform height of its upright branches. In the white pine, horizontal branches may give a flat-topped effect. The strong-growing yew needs heading back where it is crowding the choicer Tanyosho pine.
Cross the highway at the traffic light and head into the Park. On the far side, all by itself on your right is a large white ash, Fraxinus anwricana. Ashes are of separate sexes. If you see the winged nutlets on an ash you are sure that it is a pistillate or female tree. This specimen is pistillate. Even when the fruits have disappeared, you can see thousands of stiff strings on which they grew. Sportsmen should view the ash special affection. Its wood is nearly as strong as that hickory but much lighter in weight. It is extensively used for the frames of rowboats, canoes, and tennis racquets, and for oars, paddles, and baseball bats.
Farther on, just before the path branches to under Cleft Ridge Span, you will see a group of about ten Japanese pagoda or scholar trees, Sophora japonica, on the bank at your right. These are members of the pea family. The smaller trees are presumably seedlings of the older specimens. When covered with a froth of greenish white flowers in August, a season when little else is in bloom, sophoras are the Park's most conspicuous ornament.
Follow the path to the refreshment stand. Behind it on your left are three boxwoods, Buxus sempervirens, and a weeping mulberry, Morus alba pendula. The pendulous top of the mulberry, a freak or sport, would sprawl on the ground if allowed to grow normally. In order to create a fountain effect, the drooping variety is grafted on understock of normal upright mulberry. Weeping cherries and the Camperdown elm which we will see presently are produced by the same method.
As you walk back to Cleft Ridge Span, notice the English yews, Taxus baccata, on the right-hand bank. Their smooth reddish bark is distinctive.
Walk through the arch. As you come out, look up to your left into the long, hanging needles of a Himalayan pine, Pinus wallichiana (syn. P. griffithii). This is a rare pine, one of the finest, and worth a moment's close study. Its needles are in bundles of five, indicating that it belongs to the white pine group. There can be no confusion with our native white pine, Pinus strobus, which has stiff, short needles that reveal the tiered outline of the horizontal branches. In contrast, the branch structure of the Himalayan pine is obscured by a veil of soft, drooping needles. It is strange that this pine, bred in the clean air of the Himalayas, can thrive in the city's contaminated atmosphere. Our native white pine barely survives in the city. The sickly specimen on the bank at your right is a striking contrast to the flourishing Himalayan.
Because of the steepness of the bank and lack of soil-holding shrubs, earth had washed away and exposed the roots of the Himalayan pine to a degree that threatened its stability. Stakes were driven into the bank in an effort to prevent further erosion. This has been only partially successful. A barrier planting of thorny shrubs is needed at the top of the bank to close off the damaging short cut down the slope. The roots need a dressing of topsoil, a mulch of wood chips, and a prickly cover -- perhaps a pegged-down pyracantha -- to prevent trampling. In addition, the straggly yew which is bruising the pine's lower branches should be drastically cut back or removed. This Himalayan pine, the largest specimen on Long Island, is worth making every effort to preserve.
On your right, the widespread tree surrounded by a fence is the famous Camperdown elm. This is a treasure of the highest order, quite surely the most distinguished tree in the city and possibly in the state. It is a prostrate form of Scotch elm, Ulmus glabra, which has been grafted on a short trunk of normal Scotch elm. Technically this is a weeping tree but unlike the rather flimsy mulberry previously noted, the elm develops limbs that ascend, twist, and curve back on themselves to make a branch pattern of the utmost force, and intricacy.
This specimen is a vegetative descendent of a Scotch elm seedling that failed to develop a normal trunk but crept along the ground. It originated at Camperdown House, the estate of the Earl of Camperdown, near Dundee, Scotland. All Camperdown elms trace back to this one plant which was introduced to cultivation in 1850. Our tree must have been one of the first to be grafted since it is estimated to be over one hundred years old.
On one of the walking tours conducted by the Friends of Prospect Park, it was discovered that the Camperdown elm was gravely threatened by decay resulting from years of neglect and faulty pruning. The main horizontal limb on the Boat House side was a mere shell, hollow to the base, and further weakened by a great untreated wound. The Friends of Prospect Park, unwilling to let the cherished tree die for lack of care, called in the Bartlett Tree Company for diagnosis and estimates, then launched an appeal for funds. People who care deeply about the Park's trees welcomed the opportunity of taking an active part in preserving them. Through voluntary contributions, the Camperdown Fund in its first year was able to treat its namesake and three other notable trees as well.
All elms are susceptible to Dutch elm disease though in varying degrees. The chief protection for healthy elms is to keep them in thriving condition, clear of dead branches, and sprayed against beetles. Even more important is the practise of strict sanitation, which requires the removal and burning of every infected tree as soon as the disease is diagnosed. This is the only way to destroy the new crop of beetles which would otherwise emerge in early spring to carry the deadly fungus to another elm. A large elm can serve as breeding ground for three million bark beetles. It takes only one to kill a tree.
Infected elms left standing until their beetles emerge in early May are a threat to the life of every elm within a two-mile radius -- the Camperdown elm included. However, if the Camperdown had been abandoned to decay, it was quite certainly doomed. Reinforced, pruned, filled, and fed, it has a sporting chance of giving pleasure to future generations of Park visitors. Those who know and love the tree believe that the investment for professional care is a gamble worth the taking.
On the hill beyond the Camperdown elm, in the direction of the Boat House, is a large sophora of imposing form. Usually a high-branched tree, this one has stout horizontal branches thrusting out near the base.
Walk towards the Boat House to the end of the grassy triangle, then turn towards the lake around lamp post M 120. Looking across the triangle with your back to the Boat House, you will see a tree with six trunks, a multiple-stemmed red maple, Acer rubrum. Ordinarily red maples have only one trunk so this individual is quite uncommon.
As you walk towards the lake, you will find a three-trunked specimen of European hornbeam, Carpinus betulus, on your right. The zebra-striped bark of this hornbeam always excites interest and admiration. In summer the tree is hung with chains of fruits made up of three-lobed bracts in pairs, each with a nutlet in its base.
This triangular area seems to specialize in many-trunked trees. At the far end of the triangle, by lamp post M 122, is another European hornbeam with so many trunks that it resembles a tropical banyan. This tree, disfigured and endangered by dead limbs, cavities, and jagged stubs, has been pruned and fertilized by the Bartlett Tree Company through the Camperdown Fund.
Cross Lullwater Bridge and pause at the far end. On your left is a European larch, Larix decidua. Like the bald cypress, this is one of the very few "evergreens" that loses its needles in winter. The tree is most attractive in spring when its budding needles resemble pale green chenille. The developing cones, bright crimson in color, look like tiny rosebuds set along the branches. The larch has a second brief season of beauty in autumn when the whole tree turns amber yellow before the needles are shed.
The larch's poor condition, dead branches, and meager growth plainly reflected the hardships of its situation on a bare slope of hard-packed clay. Contributions to the Camperdown Fund made it possible to prune and feed the larch. Soil texture would be improved by a planting of prickly shrubs such as blackberries to prevent further compaction by foot traffic, and by a mulch of humus-forming material.
To the right of the bridge is a more normal red maple, this time with only one extra trunk. As it leans out from the bank, the arch of its branches repeats the curve of the bridge, while the foliage -- especially striking in its autumnal red -- is mirrored in the Lullwater. Because of the prominence of its situation, this tree will be the focal point of the view from the Boat House terrace when the long-promised restoration is actually accomplished. The maple was slated for surgery in 1967 to treat a dead crown and cavities in the trunk. However, the Bartlett expert advised waiting to see whether the tree suffers injury to its roots when the retaining wall is built and the lake dredged. Since work on the maple had to be postponed, the money allotted for its care was applied to the historic American elm on the border of the Nethermead. This elm is described in Tour II.
Walk a few feet beyond the bridge to a gap in the trees to your right, where you can get a fine view of an Austrian pine, Pinus nigra, standing alone on the far shore to the left of the Boat House. The boldly patterned bark, marked with conspicuous grayish plates, and dark furrows, shows up particularly well on this specimen.
Retracing your steps over the bridge and passing the multiple-stemmed hornbeam on your right, pause for another view of the Camperdown elm from a distance.
Follow the path on the left of the triangle to the Boat House and walk in back of it. Just beyond it on the left is an English hedge or field maple, Acer campestre, with a bottle-shaped trunk that divides about six feet above ground into a cluster of trunks and then into branches. Unfortunately this specimen has deteriorated beyond hope of salvage. The field maple is a highly individual tree with neat small leaves and a compressed, gnarled trunk. Because of its uncommon interest, a young field maple should be planted in the neighborhood of the Boat House to take the place of the dying one.
Near the field maple and closer to the lake is a silver-leafed linden, Tilia tomentosa, which takes its name from the pale, feltlike undersurface of its leaves.
Continue ahead to the point where the footpath to the men's comfort station branches from the main walk. In the angle of the paths is a black haw, Viburnum prunifolium, one of our handsomest native shrubs. It is variable in form and sometimes attains the stature of a small tree as this one does. It can be identified by the pattern of its bark, a mosaic of small scalelike flakes, very like the bark of a dogwood but in reduced scale. The foliage turns a glowing rose-wine color in autumn.
At the next fork, turn right at the drinking fountain and walk towards East Wood Arch. The banks on either side of the approach are protected by a simple fence, inconspicuous and effective. Trees and understory shrubs are flourishing and seeding themselves in the untrampled soil. The grove holds fallen leaves which, as they decay, return vital chemicals to the soil and renew its humus content. Notice especially the large beech on the crest of the rise to the right, near lamp post M 215. Its trunk is surrounded by a thicket of youngsters, either seedlings or sucker growth from the roots. Here the forest is renewing itself, as it can do only in congenial soil and in a spot protected from compaction.
As you walk under East Wood Arch, the view on the far side presents an unhappy contrast. With neither fence nor shrubs to protect the surface, the barren slopes are packed hard by unrestricted traffic, exposed to drying from sun and wind, and severely eroded. The effect of root injury to the magnificent trees in this area is painfully evident.
As you come up the hill, on your left just before lamp post N 213, is a black oak, Quercus veluntina. Dark rough bark and massive branches are quick guides to identification. The broad leaves end in sharp points, indicating membership in the red oak group. This oak is stag-headed, meaning that its dead crown and leafless upper limbs stand out like antlers against the sky. Prompt improvement of this disadvantaged site, with a fence, a thick planting of shrubs, mulching, and fertilizer, plus pruning of the tree, would possibly save the superb oak from destruction. It would be foresighted, however, to plant a young specimen in the vicinity for future replacement.
On the left, the next big tree beyond the black oak is a tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, with another to the right in the angle of the path. Tulip trees can be recognized by their squared-off leaf tips, their pale green and orange tuliplike flowers in early summer, and the tawny conelike fruits that often persist all winter. Like the black oak, the tulip trees show the effects of hardship. Roots are exposed where soil has washed from the bare bank, and their thin bark has been damaged by thoughtless walkers.
Just beyond the tulip trees are two flowering dogwoods, Cornus florida. The one to the left was unusually tall but the top has died as a result of drought, mechanical injury to the tender bark, and hard-packed soil. The still-unspoiled forest northeast of the Music Pagoda would be a sanctuary for dogwoods, as this untamed wilding grows best in undisturbed woodlands.
Go straight ahead until you come to a fork in the path. On your left, opposite lamp post N 210, are three willow oaks, Quercus phellos. The largest is unusually tall. One of its branches hangs low over the path so that you can examine its foliage at close range. The leaves are so slender and their edges so smooth that they might easily be mistaken for willow leaves. If you find tassels of male flowers or acorns, you will know this for a true oak. Since it has the appeal of novelty as well as of beauty, the willow oak should be planted more frequently than it is.
Take the right fork of the path. About midpoint of the grassy triangle, on your left, is a red maple, this time a single-trunked specimen. The characteristic network of surface roots should help in identification. Behind the maple, near the other path, is a sweet gum, Liquidambar styraciflua, one of our finest native trees. The star-shaped leaves are cleanly cut and put on a superlative show of color in fall. The unmistakable spiny fruit balls can be seen on the ground or hanging from the outer branches.
On the point of the triangle by lamp post N 208 is fantastically shaped European hornbeam. A three-foot stub of broken branch should have been cut flush with the trunk and sealed. Instead, the splintered wood was left exposed to invasion by fungus. Bright orange growths pushing through the bark show how the infection has spread into the main trunk. For lack of basic maintenance, this tree is doomed.
Across the walk on the left, behind the fence, is a single-seeded English hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna. This is the flowering may of English hedgerows and ballads. The native rhododendrons, R. carolinianum, with their white or pale pink powderpuffs of bloom, make a pleasing complement to the hawthorn's flowers.
Behind the shrubs is a cherry birch, Betula lenta, a native tree too seldom seen in Prospect Park, especially in such large size. This birch may be recognized by its dark gray bark breaking into large, thick plates and by the brown catkins set upright on its branchlets.
A mountain of earth was bulldozed against the birch in June, 1967, cutting off air and water from its roots. Roots buried under even six inches of earth will suffocate, critically weakening a tree within a year and killing it in two. Grosser abuse will destroy it more rapidly. Shortly after the damage was done, the Park Department was notified of the threat to the birch and was urged to order immediate removal of the earth to prevent irreparable injury to the tree.
Turning back to the path, on the side near the road is a large white oak. Can you remember its distinguishing marks? It was described early in the tour.
As you come out by the carrousel to Flatbush Avenue, you can turn left for a visit to historic Lefferts Homestead, walk across the street to the celebrated Brooklyn Botanic Garden, or turn right for the BMT. The subway entrance is hidden behind some stores, directly across the street from the bakery whose sign serves as guidepost.
The Friends of Prospect Park sounds like a superb organization and a timely opportunity to advance conservation measures to protect the beauty of Prospect Park. We can all hope that the maintenance improvement will be made and made soon.
Sharon F. Francis, Stag Assistant for Beautification to Mrs. Johnson; the White House, 1967
"To properly maintain, improve and develop our parks demands intelligence, time and love of the work. The best of talent alone pays, for ignorance causes more destruction in a short time than years of constant endeavor can repair."
J. G. Dettmer, Brooklyn Park Commissioner, 1897
Willink Gate at Flatbush and Ocean Avenues, reached by BMT Brighton Beach Express. Get off at Prospect Park Station and follow arrows to Botanic Garden exit.
This is the entrance near the carousel. As you face the Park, take the walk on the left side of the highway. Two boxwoods, Buxus sempervirens, about eight feet high, are on the near side of the road. One is close to the stone column, the other nearer the path. This, the common box, is native to northern Europe. North Africa, and western Asia. In warm climates, boxwood attains tree proportions. Here in the North it is on the borderline of survival and is so badly damaged during severe winters that it seldom gets beyond shrub size. The foliage of boxwood gives off a distinct musky odor, pleasing to some noses, disagreeable to others. It is most noticeable in enclosed or sheltered areas such as the front lawn of Lefferts Homestead.
Looking across the highway, you will see an uncommon small pine from Japan, the Tanyosho pine, Pinus densiflora umbraculifera. A variety of the red pine, this species is also called umbrella pine because of its broad rounded top.
Walk ahead about thirty yards to a point where a path leads off to the right. In the angle of the paths is a Chinese elm, Ulmus parvifolia, which leans to the left. It has very small leaves with a grayish cast. The Chinese elm is a variable tree, differing in the shape of its leaves and in its bark. However much they vary in appearance, Chinese elms agree in having distinctively small leaves and in flowering in August and September, unlike the American elm and most other species which bloom in spring. The Chinese elm has been widely advertised as being immune to Dutch elm disease. According to pathologists, no elm is immune, but the Chinese elm is among the more resistant species. It is very late to leaf out in spring and may cause panic in new owners when it stands leafless and apparently dead while other trees are green.
Continue about thirty yards farther and turn onto the path that branches off to the right towards the highway. As you walk towards the traffic light, you will see on your right at the edge of the road a magnificent white Oak, Quercus alba. Go directly underneath it and admire the beautiful foliage patterns against the sky. The lobes and sinuses of the leaves are rounded. This is the distinguishing mark of the white oak group. Quercus alba can be identified by the light gray bark which flakes off in thin shreds, increasingly conspicuous on the upper trunk and branches.
Still farther to the right is a swamp white oak, Quercus bicolor, a much smaller specimen. The rounded outlines of its leaves place it in the white oak group. In this species, the leaves broaden towards the tip instead of tapering. The branches are slender, and the lower ones droop like those of the pin oak. You can clinch the identification if you can find some acorns: the swamp white oak bears them in pairs on a distinct stalk.
If you sight between these trees across the road, you will see a large black oak, Quercus velutina. Black oaks belong to the red oak group which is characterized by sharply cut, often needle-pointed leaves. Black oaks can be distinguished from red oaks at a distance by the dark, deeply fissured bark broken into small plates, and by the massive, irregularly curved branches. If you can reach a twig or find a fallen one on the ground, you can confirm your identification. Buds of the black oak are dull-surfaced and fuzzy on the upper half, while those of the red oak are shiny below and fuzzy at the top. Black oak leaves are generally larger and less deeply cut than those of the red oak, but species show so much variation that this is not a liable distinction. Trust your first overall impression: black bark, heavy horizontal branches, and broad, solid-looking leaves mark the black oak, which in maturity is a truly majestic tree.
These oaks and other large trees in this heavily traveled area show dead tops and limbs, the result of injury caused by soil compaction. Roots need air as well as water. Neither can penetrate soil which is packed as hard as concrete. The root areas of irreplaceable trees should be protected by low fences or by barrier plantings of thorny shrubs.
As you pause at the traffic light before crossing, you will see a willow oak, Quercus phellos, at the edge of the road on your left. The foliage is so slender that the tree is easily mistaken for a willow, especially in spring when the leaves are light willow green. Despite its deceptive foliage, the tree bears acorns and thus proves itself a true oak. Willow oaks are excellent subjects for street planting and general landscape use.
Cross the road. On the left is an unusual and beautiful Ginkgo biloba. This species is the most primitive type of tree you will see in the Park, as it was in existence before any of the other species developed. Typical ginkgo foliage is flat but this individual has slightly cupped leaves. Again, the more usual form has spreading, often horizontal branches. This particular specimen, with upright branches held close to the trunk, is a fastigiate form.
On the right of the path, at the edge of the road, is a small, gray-barked tree with three main trunks. This is an American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana, one of the very few in the Park. If you examine its clusters of fruit closely, you will find three-lobed bracts in pairs, each with a nutlet in its cupped base. The American hornbeam can be distinguished from the widely planted European species in three ways: its bark is not conspicuously striped, the tip of the central lobe of the bract is pointed, and the leaves take on brilliant red and yellow coloring in autumn.
Follow the path farther into the Park and take a left turn at the intersection. You will pass between two splendid tulip trees, Liriodendron tulipifera. A mature tulip tree is notable for its towering height and for its straight trunk, often bare of branches up to the crown. Under favorable conditions, where roots are not damaged by compaction and erosion as they are here, this species will reach 150 feet. The square-cut leaf tips are a ready means of identification.
Walk through East Wood Arch. At the drinking fountain, take a short detour to the left, behind and beyond the Boat House, to see the renowned Camperdown elm. This is fully described in Tour I.
Returning to the drinking fountain, keep walking straight ahead. On the right you will see a large sycamore maple, Acer pseudoplatanus. This is a coarse, invasive tree suitable only for rough places and greatly overplanted in Prospect Park. The heavy-textured leaves are broad with deeply indented veins. The green flowers hang in long clusters and give the tree in spring a fleeting resemblance to a giant laburnum. The key fruits, also in grapelike clusters, are an easy mark of identification.
On the right at the far end of the bridge, the gracefully arched shrub is a black haw, Viburnum prunifolium. The bark of the trunk and older branches resembles that of a dogwood but in miniature scale. Foliage is clean and delicate and turns a glowing rose-red in fall.
About forty-five yards beyond the bridge, by the tall post with two spotlights on the left, you will find two scarlet oaks, Quercus coccinea, just inside the fence. The leaves of scarlet oaks are shiny on the underside, with deeply cut, almost circular sinuses. The tree is notable for its flaming fall color.
Scarlet oaks are considered by some authorities to be natural hybrids between red and pin oaks. The latter species show great variation in the size and shape of their leaves. Their reputed offspring inherit the vagaries of both parents and even invent some diversities of their own. If you can't tell scarlet oaks from red or pin, don't worry. You're in good company. Experts sometimes disagree.
Behind the scarlet oaks, nearer the lake, are three tulip trees whose bark is worth observing. The slenderest of the three has normal straight-up-and-down striping. The two others show a spiral pattern which twists from the base right to the top.
Continue ahead to the temporary refreshment stand and turn right. In the gravel areas on the left of the path and on the right in front of the Music Pagoda are many London planes. Their peeling, piebald bark stands out among more soberly colored trees.
Walk ahead, taking the first left turn which brings you to the open meadow called the Nethermead. On a mound to the left, by lamp post M 230, stands a great American elm, Ulmus americana, the oldest tree in the Park. Its age is estimated by the Bartlett Tree Company as well over three hundred years. This elm was therefore a mature tree when George Washington's outnumbered forces fought their gallant retreat across this field on August 27, 1776. With the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Long Island approaching, it is more than ever essential to preserve this magnificent elm as a living monument.
In the early 1930's, the Park's arboriculturist, John Herlihy, supervised WPA work on the elm. The 20 foot cavity in the trunk was cleaned and filled and the enormous spreading canopy was reinforced with rods and cables to prevent splitting.
In the fall of 1967, the elm was given deep root feeding through the Camperdown Fund, a program organized by the Friends of Prospect Park to save the Park's historic trees. The Fund's resources in its first year were not sufficient to cover necessary pruning. This is a goa1 for tree lovers, patriots, and historians in 1968.
Elms have extremely shallow root systems which are especially vulnerable to injury from compacted soil. A temporary fence and mulching would loosen the soil, admit air and water, and encourage the growth of new feeding roots.
Before you leave, walk into the meadow for a full view of this truly noble tree, and bow to the memory of John Herlihy whose wise concern saved the great elm for your enjoyment and wonder.
Here's a good stopping point. If you are tired, come back and pick up the second half of the tour another day, or rest awhile in the Music Grove and start again at the American elm.
Continuing along the path bordering the Nethermead, you come to an Osage orange, Maclura pomifera, with its two trunks secured with rods. The tree is native to Osage Indian country, a small area at the junction of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. The "orange" -- hard and inedible -- may grow as large as 5" in diameter when mature in autumn. The glossy foliage is attractive but the tree is perhaps most striking in winter when its bright orange bark is fully revealed.
On the right of the path, opposite the Osage orange, is a grove of Sophora japonica, the scholar or pagoda tree. The largest, presumably the parent of the others, has an impressive buttress of surface roots, grown into a solid collar and covered with bark. A badly cut stub on the trunk has been corrected, and the exposed wood of other wounds sealed with dressing. This work was done without charge by the Bartlett Company as their contribution to the tree salvage program of the Friends of Prospect Park.
Just beyond the sophoras, inside the fence on the right, is a young hickory, a genus poorly represented in Prospect Park. In the absence of nuts, it is not possible to identify the species positively but all other characteristics -- fat buds, thick twigs, and horse-faced leaf scars -- point to the mockernut hickory, Carya tomentosa.
Pound for pound, the wood of hickory is stronger than steel but less brittle. Because of its resistance to the heat of friction, it was used for the hubs of wooden wheels. Hickory is unequaled for making handles for axes, chisels, and other striking tools because it can withstand the shock of impact without splintering. Its ability to endure violent strains makes it the prime material for wooden skis. General Andrew Jackson's affectionate nickname of "Old Hickory" was a double tribute to the toughness and resilience of man and tree.
Follow the stream a short distance ahead to lamp post G 232 on your left. Go up the steps and out to the road. On the far side, a little to your right, is a shrubby English yew, Taxus baccata, about 15 feet high. Like boxwood, this yew is on the borderline of hardiness in this region. A specimen of this size is unusual. The fruit is red and contains poisonous seeds.
As you cross the bridge, note the Osage orange growing below at the far left corner. Since your viewpoint is level with its upper branches, you should be able to spot the "oranges" even in early summer when they are still small.
Just before the tall lamp post, N 254, is a double-trunked tree with a reinforced crotch. Notice how bark has grown out along the rods in an effort to heal the wound. This is one of the easier oaks to identify. Rounded leaf outlines and pale, flaking bark: did you recognize the marks of the white oak?
On the left, just beyond the storm sewer and about 20 feet from the edge of the road, is a red or swamp maple, Acer rubrum. Its red flowers on leafless branches are one of the first signs of spring. Red key fruits and dazzling red autumn color further carry out its name. Young red maples typically have smooth, pale gray bark but this individual has a number of burls -- abnormal growths -- on the trunk.
Again on the left, behind lamp post N 252, is a large white oak. To its left and partly hidden behind it is a sweet gum, Liquidambar styraciflua. This is recognized by its star-shaped leaves and spiky, woody fruit balls.
Just beyond the gravel path on the left is a pink-flowering horsechestnut, Aesculus carnea, a hybrid form grafted on common horsechestnut understock. The line of the graft is clearly marked by differing bark color and texture.
Farther along on the right, a number of oak species offers an opportunity to review and compare their characteristics. Opposite the tall lamp post N 231 is a low-branched red oak, Quercus rubra, with another to your right as you face it. Their relatively smooth bark is marked with interlacing lines of lighter gray, giving the illusion that the crevices have been filled with putty. Compare this pattern with the dark, rough bark of the black oak on the near side of lamp post N 223, and with the light gray, flaking bark of the white oak just beyond the asphalt path to the right.
As you face the automotive highway, take the asphalt footpath to your left. On your right is a large cherry tree with an unusually tall, straight trunk. Note how the bark is lined with horizontal bands of small pores or lenticels. This is a cultivated European cherry, Prunus avium, with large flowers and edible fruit.
Across the path is a magnificent tree with a trunk dividing about ten feet above ground. Round-edged leaves, pale flaking bark -- by now you should know a white oak at first sight.
Some distance ahead, on the left by lamp post N 229, is an outstandingly fine specimen of black haw, Viburnum prunifolium, one of our handsomest native shrubs. The red color of its leaf stems and the large size of its flower clusters are unusually decorative. Superior forms like this should be propagated for distribution to nurseries.
Another fine native shrub, Clethra alnifolia, the sweet pepperbush, grows about fifteen feet from the path on the right, a short distance before you come to lamp post N 230. The clethra has upright spikes of deliciously sweet-scented white flowers, doubly valued for their appearance in midsummer. lf the clethra is not in bloom, you can recognize it by the brown, persistent seed capsules that tip its branches. A sassafras has seeded into the clethra and will destroy the shrub unless it is removed. Extensive planting of clethras would give walkers on this woodland path a special delight.
As you come to the division of the path, directly ahead on the the triangle is a sweet gum. Look for the star-shaped leaves and for the prickly fruit balls on the ground or dangling from the outer branches. The sweet gum is valued for its flamboyant autumn color, sometimes showing yellow, apricot, red, and rose-purple on the same tree.
The two trees to the left, with trunks about a foot apart at the base, are native black cherries, Prunus serotina. These carry their flowers in long racemes or spikes. The fruit is invaluable food for wild birds as it ripens over a long period.
The path ends at a place where the road was straightened in August 1967, for the benefit of speeding automobiles. Among other trees, a superb Sophora japonica was sacrificed. This was the finest of its species in the Park, with heavy, sculptural burls that gave it a look of great antiquity.
Stand here for a moment to watch the traffic. It violates the tranquility of Olmsted and Vaux's pastoral landscape, designed as a refuge from the noise, rush, and smells of the city. Deterioration of our parks will continue as long as automobiles are given priority over trees and grass.
If you visit Prospect Park on a day when automobiles are banned and bicycles silently skim the roads, you will enjoy the mood of quiet relaxation for which Prospect Park was designed.
Going through the Zoo to Flatbush Avenue and turning right, you come to the Lefferts Homestead, a farmhouse dating from the Revolutionary war and eminently worth a visit. The Homestead is furnished with antiques of the period, many of them provided by the Fort Greene Chapter of the D.A.R. . . .
Even today complaint is made that the drives are not wide enough and we understand that the Department is constantly pressed to enlarge them. Once already it has yielded to such pressure and widened a considerable stretch of road, destroying many of the finest trees on the ground in order to do so, and readjusting walks and other features to the injury of the rural character of the ground. Frederick Law Olmsted, 1886
Stranahan Gate on Grand Army Plaza near Flatbush Avenue, reached by IRT 7th Avenue subway. Get off at Brooklyn Museum Station and follow arrows to Brooklyn Public Library.
Take the path at the left of the highway as you face the Park, with the Ingersoll Library on your left and the Stranahan statue on your right. Just inside the gate at the left are a dozen Austrian pines, Pinus nigra. One of these, at the far end of the group on the Flatbush Avenue side, has produced a dense mass of extremely compressed growth near its top. Sports of this sort are propagated by cuttings or grafts to create miniature shrubs for rock gardens or bonsai. It would be an achievement to introduce a new dwarf variety which originated in Prospect Park.
Another Austrian pine, standing alone on the right side of the path, shows an especially decorative silhouette. Like the others, its stiff 6" needles are in pairs, grayish green in color, and often slightly twisted. The bark of Austrian pines is distinctively marked with wide gray plateaus separated by dark canyons. This pine has long been a favorite in our parks because of its ability to flourish under city conditions.
In the same plot at the right are three blue spruces, Picea pungens glauca, and two oriental spruces, P. onentalis. The needles of the oriental Spruce, about 1/3" long, are the smallest of any of the spruces. The sparse, stunted growth of these trees -- in contrast to the thriving Austrian pines -- clearly demonstrates that spruces in general are not adapted to city life.
In this area are two saucer magnolias (Magnolia soulangeana), two flowering dogwoods (Comus florida), and a cut-leaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum). The last can be identified in winter by its pale gray bark lined with dark, broken, vertical striping.
Near the police kiosk is a purple beech, Fagus sylvatica purpurea, a variety of European beech. Purple beeches were greatly admired and extensively planted by Victorian landscapers and now, grown to enormous size, are a prominent feature of many parks and old estates.
Ahead and to the left, on a little hillock that juts into the path, is a two-trunked silverbell, Halesia Carolina, a native of our southern states. The bell-shaped flowers appear in great profusion in spring. This specimen is dying and should be replaced.
As the path turns toward Endale Arch, on the bank at the right side is a large European beech, Fagus sylvatica, which probably dates from the Park's original planting. It is characterized by smooth, light gray bark; a habit of surface rooting; long, pointed, shin, brown leaf buds in winter; and, unfortunately, defacing initials carved in the trunk.
For a short detour, go uphill past the arch and look up the slope at the right to a close cluster of silver lindens, Tilia tomentosa. This species gets both its common and its scientific name from the feltlike underside of its leaves. The bark of this particular group is unusually smooth. On the opposite hill, a similar cluster with more typically striped bark balances this group.
Turn around at this high point for a good view of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, then walk back towards Endale Arch. Before you reach the fork in the path, notice the shrubby Styrax japonica on the grassy slope on the right. In early June the styrax is hung with pointed white bells set with a yellow clapper and carrying a delicious fragrance. The styrax has clean, trim foliage and is highly recommended as a decorative tree for small properties. It looks its best when pruned to a single trunk, limbed high enough so that one can walk under its arching branches to view the massed flowers against the sky.
Go through the arch: the Long Meadow stretches before you. This is Prospect Park's most renowned feature, a mile-long sweep of unspoiled countryside, the largest expanse of grassland in any city park the world over. More than any other feature, the Long Meadow gives Prospect Park the pastoral quality which is the essence of Olmsted and Vaux's design.
Taking the right fork of the path, you will see -- and perhaps smell -- a large ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba, on your right. The ginkgo is a familiar city tree easily recognized by its small fan-shaped leaves. This particular specimen is a female tree which bears quantities of evil-smelling fruit in autumn. Only the flesh is offensive: the nut is prized as a delicacy, especially by the Chinese. Female trees are now rare in cultivation as nurserymen propagate and sell only male trees, which of course bear no fruit.
At the left of the footpath and slightly ahead is large specimen of Nyssa sylvatica, known in various localities as sour gum, pepperidge, and tupelo. The last name may be familiar on breakfast tables as it identifies the delicately fragrant tupelo honey. The sour gum is the earliest of our native trees to show autumn color, sometimes turning scarlet or claret red in late July when it glows among its still-green companions.
At some distance on the right, on the slope of the hill, is a purple beech; and ahead, again on the right two Schwedler maples. Acer platanoides schwedleri, a variety of Norway maple. Their red foliage has a stained glass radiance in spring, especially when seen with the sun behind it. Later, the leaves turn green but an underlying hint of red persists and darkens their color all summer.
Behind the maples but higher on the bank, the tallest tree is a tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera. One of our finest natives, the tulip tree can be identified by its blunt leaf tips, pale green and orange flowers, and the conelike fruits that show up against the winter sky.
There is much dead wood in the tulip tree and in its close neighbor on the right, which also bears a great gash on the street side of its trunk where a car or snow plow struck it. This tree, with low, arching branches and interestingly spiraled, deeply grooved bark, is a swamp white oak, Quercus bicolor, of outstanding size. Like all members of the white oak group, the leaves of the swamp white oak have rounded lobes and sinuses. Instead of tapering, the leaves broaden towards the tip. Acorns are home in pairs on a short stalk, an infallible clue to identity. Since this exceptionally fine tree and the tulip tree at its elbow are in need of skilled care, contributors to the Camperdown Fund might consider them as candidates for professional treatment in 1968.
Near Meadowport Arch on the right is a large London plane, Platanus acerifolia, a hybrid between the American and oriental planes. The London plane is greatly valued as a street tree because of its tolerance of city hardships, and accordingly is overplanted to the point of monotony. The London plane usually has two seed balls in a cluster while the American (commonly called sycamore or buttonwood) has only one. Many of the seed balls remain on the tree all winter, while the varicolored, peeling bark is distinctive in all seasons.
High to the right at the corner of Meadowport Arch, a sycamore maple, Acer pseudoplatanus, has a precarious hold on the bank. It demonstrates how roots are exposed by erosion when an unguarded, bare slope invites short cuts. The remedy is a thick barrier of thorny shrubs (the hardy orange with its 4" steel-tipped spines is ideal) plus cribbing and mulching with wood chips until the soil is stabilized.
Enter Meadowport Arch and take the right-hand passage. As you come out, look up and slightly to the left to enjoy the lacy foliage of one of the choicest trees in the Park, a two-trunked cut-leaf Japanese maple with unusually refined foliage and graceful form. In early May the clear green leaves are complemented by cloudlike filigree of tiny red flowers. The overhanging ailanthus, a weed tree, should be removed before it shades the maple to death.
Taking the path to the left, you pass another Japanese maple on the same hillock, this one seen to better advantage as it is not overshadowed by a taller tree.
Continue circling to the left until you come to a rise close to the road. On the very edge of the road, by an unnumbered tall lamp post with a No Parking sign, is a Eurasian elm of extraordinary form. About ten feet above ground the trunk divides into four massive limbs, three of them nearly horizontal. The vertical one in turn divides into five large limbs. This is a smooth-leafed elm, Ulmus carpinifolia, a variable species easily confused with the English elm. Both have low, heavy branches and a habit of suckering from the base and roots. The smooth-leafed elm, however, has leaves with smooth tops and hairless undersides, except for minute tufts in the axils of the veins. The leaf of the English elm is rough on top and hairy beneath.
Return towards Meadowport Arch. If you take the path on the near side of the grassy island and sight between the two cut-leaf maples, you will see a sour gum on the far bank, standing next to a Himalayan pine. The sour gum is inconspicuous in summer but when it turns burnished red in fall, it lights up the whole area. Its lacquerlike brilliance is especially effective against the soft, hazy green of the pine.
The Himalayan pine, Pinus wallichiana (syn. P. griffithii), can be recognized by the long, pendulous needles that veil its branches. Compare this fine exotic with two specimens of the native white pine, P. strobits, on the hill to the right. In contrast to the soft tassels of the Himalayan pine, the needles of the white pine are shorter and more erect. The tree's widely spaced horizontal branches give it an open appearance. A mature white pine, especially when silhouetted against moving clouds, suggests a square-rigged ship with reefed sails.
Beyond the Himalayan pine, on the left, are four Chinese tree lilacs, Syringa pekinensis. A fifth, with a lyre-shaped trunk, stands at the base of the nearer white pine and arches across the path to meet the others. These tree lilacs bloom after the last shrub lilacs, thus prolonging the season. Their large panicles of creamy-white flowers develop into clusters of green, flame-shaped fruits which are nearly as showy as the flowers. The trunks are rough but the young branches have such a high gloss and fine reddish color that they could be easily mistaken for specimens of cultivated cherry.
Just behind the tree lilacs and higher up the slope, the arching, many-stemmed shrub is the native black haw, Viburnum prunifolium, valued for its graceful habit and rose-red fall color.
Where the path divides, take the left branch. Just beyond lamp post 105 is a hop hornbeam, Ostrya virginiana, one of the less common of our eastern trees. This specimen divides into three trunks above a shared base. Its bark hangs in fine, papery shreds, in sharp contrast to the skin-smooth bark of the related American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana.
Beyond the hornbeam are two more Chinese tree lilacs, and squeezed between the lilacs is a native hackberry, Celtis occidentalis. The hackberry is best known for the brushy growths called witches' brooms that develop on the tips of its branches. These abnormal growths are caused by fungus carried by mites, minute eight-legged creatures belonging to the spider family. The infection restricts the growth of the tree but doesn't otherwise harm it.
Hackberries seem to thrive on adversity: they am one of the most plentiful self-sown trees on Central Park's rocky ledges but seem to do less well in Prospect Park's more open soil. The bark is distinctively pale gray, usually smooth but in some individuals showing corky ridges or warts. In summer, the witches' brooms are half hidden by fresh-looking, light green foliage. In winter a grove of hackberries becomes an enchanted forest as the brooms take on the aspect of bearded gnomes and spidery fingers. The hackberry's fairy tale qualities are evident only when the tree is silhouetted against the sky, not crowded as it is here.
A little farther on, still on the left and well away from the path, is a small, contorted black cherry, Prunus serotina. The bend of its trunk suggests that it has served as bronco for legions of city cowboys.
On the right side of the footpath near the colonnade are three double-flowered Japanese cherries, Prunus serrulata "Kwanzan." Turn away from the Plaza and walk back a few yards into the Park. On your left are three small-leafed evergreens, one with a treelike habit. These are Japanese hollies, Ilex crenata. Unlike the American and English hollies, the leaves of the Japanese species are without spines and their fruits are black rather than red. Ilex crenata is a variable species. In its dense, rounded forms, it makes a good substitute for the less hardy boxwood, while low and spreading varieties are useful for edgings and rock gardens.
Take the left fork of the path which is flanked by two purple beeches. The trunks of both have been mutilated, the smaller one more recently and seriously. Thoughtless people fail to realize that a wound in bark, like a wound in human flesh, is an invitation to infection. The proposed Audubon Nature Study Center, at which school children would be taught to respect all forms of life, would materially reduce vandalism due to ignorance and lack of training.
Beyond the left-hand beech, near the highway on the left, are two small-leaf European lindens, Tilia cordata. Note the dainty, rounded leaves of these lindens and the dense, fine, stiff branches and twigs. Linden flowers have a light but pervasive fragrance which is captured in linden honey. In Europe the flowers are used to make an herbal tea.
In line with the far linden but nearer the path are two sycamore maples, Acer pseudoplatanus. These are weed trees, coarse and free seeding. The tough-looking leaves with conspicuously impressed veins are one means of recognition. Look for dangling grapelike clusters of greenish yellow flowers or key fruits to confirm your identification.
The last two trees in this group are hedge or field maples, Acer campestre, seldom seen but of exceptional interest. The stocky, gnarled trunks are full of character, resembling bonsai in their compression and look of great age and endurance. With such a wealth of stimulating material to choose from, there is little reason for planting hackneyed trees like the over-used Norway and sycamore maples and London planes.
Here the tree tour ends. Before you leave, climb the little rise by lamp post 102 for a final look at Long Meadow through its screen of trees.
The Long Meadow is five times as large as any in Central Park. It is the crowning expression of Olmsted and Vaux's purpose: to create an oasis of peace and refreshment, a refuge from the congestion of the city. A feeling of freedom and limitless space is achieved, in Olmsted's words, by "a broad stretch of slightly undulating meadow without defined edges, its turf lost in a maze of the shadows of scattered trees. . . ."
As a further enticement, the extent of the Long Meadow is not fully revealed. Instead, it sweeps around low hills and out of sight, hinting at endless distance and adventures in the fields beyond.
I saw the setting sun lighting up the opposite side of a stately pine wood. Its golden rays straggled into the aisles of the wood as into some noble hall. I was impressed as if some ancient and altogether admirable and shining family had settled there. . . . If it were not for such families as this, I think I should move out of Concord.
Henry David Thoreau: Walking, 1862
. . . Every bit of work done on the Park should be done for the single purpose of making the visitor feel as if be had got far away from the town.
Frederick Law Olmsted, 1873
Entrance at Parkside and Ocean Avenues. Take the BMT Brighton Beach Express to Parkside Station, and follow arrows to Parkside Avenue.
As you face the beautiful wisteria colonnade that frames this entrance to the Park, take the righthand path on the Ocean Avenue side. Stand just inside the gateway and look ahead to a balanced pair of large European lindens, Tilia europea, that closely flank the path. In contrast to the man-made stone structure that faces the city street, these trees form a living gateway to this greatest of naturalistic landscape parks.
To your left at the edge of the highway, near the colonnade, are two Kentucky coffee trees, Gymnocladus dioicus. Pioneers who first settled in the Middle South roasted the seeds and brewed a bitter drink from them, but quickly abandoned the substitute when real coffee became available. Leaves of the coffee tree may be from one to three feet long and are composed of forty to sixty individual leaflets. The skeleton of the tree is noticeably sparse, as you will see if you compare it to the sassafras (Sassafras albidum) next to the colonnade on the far side of the highway. This sassafras has an unusual form: the trunk broadens towards the base in a conical shape more characteristic of a bald cypress.
Sassafras foliage is interesting because of the variation in form. Some leaves are simple ovals, some have three lobes, and some two. The "thumb" of the last form gives the sassafras its common name of mitten tree. The specimen on the near side of the highway, about ten yards beyond the second coffee tree, is dead but you can study the leaf forms on the sucker growth at its base. The green color of young sassafras twigs persists all winter and serves as an identifying mark when the leaves have fallen.
Oil of sassafras, possibly because of its aromatic odor, was once esteemed as a medicine of cure-all potency. Belief in the sassafras's curative powers survives in the old-fashioned spring tonic favored by country housewives and detested by their children. In more palatable form, sassafras is an ingredient of root beer. Its dried leaves may perhaps still be used for making sassafras tea. Pulverized, they become the filé powder or gumbo fil´ used in Creole cookery.
An English single-seeded hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, is growing just beyond the dead sassafras at the edge of the road. Its two trunks are obscured by sucker growth. This profusion of thorny branches makes the species a valuable hedging plant. Hedges of the one-seed hawthorn line hundreds of miles of country lanes in England.
Continue straight ahead to the path of hexagonal blocks. On your right are two white pines, Pinus strobus, with five needles in each cluster and between them an Austrian pine, P. nigra, with only two needles to a bundle. This specimen is unlike the typically upright Austrian pine, as its branches have a drooping, almost weeping, habit.
On the left is a large silver maple, Acer saccharinum. Its flaking bark resembles that of a white oak. The sharply pointed, silver-backed leaves, however, are quite distinct from the white oak's round-lobed foliage. The silver maple, a fast-growing tree, was once extensively used for street planting. The tree has gained a bad reputation from its habit of dropping huge dead limbs without warning. Unless the silver maple is kept conscientiously pruned, mature specimens become a hazard to passersby.
As you wait for the traffic light, look across the first lane of the highway to your left. By the tall lamp post is a willow oak, Quercus phellos, an uncommon and decorative species with long, slender, willowlike leaves.
Cross both lanes of the highway and the bridle path. Immediately on your left is an English elm, Uhnus procera. Unlike the American elm, with its arching branches springing from a high crown, the English elm has low, heavy side branches and a massive trunk, nearly black in color. Mature specimens of English elm have an imposing air of solidity and strength, entirely distinct from the fountainlike grace of the American elm.
The tree on your right about thirty feet from the path is a two-trunked specimen of Betula lenta, variously known as cherry, sweet, and mahogany birch. The name cherry birch refers to the similarity of the bark of young growth to that of the cultivated cherry. The aromatic properties of the tree are denoted by its name of sweet birch. Its sap was once used to make birch beer. When not synthetic, the "wintergreen" flavoring of chewing gum and candy is in fact an extract of young cherry birches.
Betula lenta is able to thrive in poor soils and quickly seeds itself into thickets. It does invaluable service as soil holder and could be combined with other native material to check erosion on bare slopes in the Park and particularly in the Ravine.
Directly ahead, at the right of the path, is a European hornbeam, Carpinus betulus. Its zebra-striped bark is spectacular and sets it apart from the uniformly blue-gray bark of the American hornbeam. The tiny fruit is enclosed in a three-lobed bract whose central lobe is rounded like the tip of a finger. On the near side of the trunk, an unpruned stub of a dead branch has rotted back and formed a cavity. If untreated, decay will hollow the trunk and eventually destroy the tree.
Returning to the English elm, take the hexagonal block walk to the left of the green triangle, then turn left on the walk around the lake. As you pass the far end of the grass oval, across the walk from lamp post K 230, look ahead to a large-leafed tree with two trunks. This is an American linden or basswood, Tilia americana, with an unusual drooping habit.
The branches of the linden touch a tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, one of a group on either side of the walk. Tulip trees are one of our stateliest native species, with tall straight trunks and leaves squared off at the tips. The tuliplike flowers, though quite large, are difficult to see as their pale green and orange color blends with the foliage. In winter, remnants of the conelike, buff-colored fruits can be seen at the tips of the upper branches.
The tulip tree on the left has a huge wound on the side facing the street. Nearly a third of the bark has been destroyed, reducing the flow of food to the roots. Regrowth has been delayed because the jagged edges of the wound were not cut back to solidly attached bark nor shaped to the smooth, pointed oval that promotes rapid healing. The exposed sapwood was painted at one time but the paint is now peeling, leaving the wood without protection against drying and cracking.
An older wound on the lake side of the tulip tree to the right of the path shows the result of long-standing neglect. Here the bare wood has dried and shrunk, opening crevices which invite insect and fungus invasion. The overhang of loose bark, left untrimmed, has already provided a sheltered breeding site for boring insects. The holes through which they emerged can be seen in the bark above the wound. Twenty minutes of work with a chisel and mallet in skilled hands would have prevented this secondary damage and speeded the growth of new bark. These magnificent trees must be saved if given prompt treatment, but years of healing have been irrevocably lost because the wounds were not given immediate, intelligent care.
Diagonally ahead and to the right from lamp post K 231 is a normal American linden to compare with the drooping specimen seen just before. This one is upright with a trunk that divides into three about ten feet above ground. This coarse-leafed tree bears little resemblance to the commonly planted European lindens -- in fact, at a hasty glance, it might be mistaken for a catalpa. However, look for a long leaflike bract bearing on its underside a stalk with one or more hard round fruits, and you will know it for a linden.
In line with the linden but nearer the lake is a low-branched English elm. Note the surface roots with sucker shoots which would form a thicket if not trampled on. It is curious that the English elm rarely produces viable seeds and would die out if not propagated by man or, to a limited degree, by suckers.
Across the bridle path to the left is a scholar or pagoda tree, Sophora japonica. One of its branches leans over the traffic light. Because of its compound leaves, the sophora may be confused with our native black locust, also a member of the pea family. The sophora has relatively smooth bark, green twigs, and persistent fruits that hang like strings of bumpy beads. The black locust has deeply furrowed bark and clusters of beanlike pods. You can most easily distinguish the trees by their season of bloom: the black locust in early spring before the leaves are fully developed, the sophora in late summer. There are many sophoras in Prospect Park. If you study their characteristics, you'll be able to recognize the next one you see.
Turn again towards the lake. To the left of lamp post K 232 is a white ash, Fraxinus americana, with a tunnel under its roots. The distinguishing mark of the white ash is the light undersurface of the leaflets that make up its compound leaves. If you have a hand lens, you can clinch the identification by examining the scars left on the twigs by last year's leaves. The scars of the white ash are crescent shaped, in contrast to those of the black, red, and green ashes which form a half circle. The overhanging dead limb on the lake side of this ash is a danger to passersby as well as to the tree.
Leave the path at this point and walk on the grass towards the lake. On the lake shore is a white willow, Salix alba, with branches leaning far over the water. Walk to the left along the bank to a little promontory on the shore. The first tree on your left is an American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana, too seldom planted in the Park. This is a beautiful specimen, broader than it is tall, but in urgent need of extensive pruning to clear the dead and fungus-infected wood. Its bark has broken stripes of pale gray-brown and there are several burls on the trunk. The rich red and orange fall coloring of the American hornbeam helps to distinguish it from the European species which shows no marked seasonal color.
If you draw an imaginary line from the promontory through the hornbeam, its landward end will point to a tall tree with cinnamon-colored bark and feathery foliage. This is a bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, a paradoxical tree: an "evergreen" that isn't evergreen and not a true cypress. The bald cypress occurs naturally from Delaware southward but is hardy enough to survive when planted in New England.
To the left of the cypress, the contorted tree with two trunks, yellowish bark, and intertwined roots is a white mulberry, Morus alba. In the Orient, leaves of the white mulberry are the chief food of cultivated silkworms. The mulberry was brought to this country in the hope of starting a domestic silk industry. The experiment failed but the mulberry flourished and spread. Judging by the number of leaves sent to the Botanic Garden for identification, it is the commonest weed tree in Brooklyn.
This is the turning point of the walk. You can now retrace your steps to the Parkside Gate where you started, and pick up the second part of the tour another day. If time and energy permit, you can return by a different but somewhat longer route.
For good walkers, then, the tour continues in the direction of the skating rink. Where the path turns left towards the rink, at lamp post K 228, you will be able to compare three different European lindens. A silver-leafed linden, Tilia tomentosa, is in the angle of the path as it turns left. This linden has been grafted on understock of another species, probably the European. The difference in bark color above and below the graft line is clearly evident. This tree has a horizontal branch that arches gracefully over the path. To the left, across from lamp post K 228, is a European linden, Tilia europea. On the point of the triangle to the right is a small-leafed linden, T. cordata, with two trunks. Its branches mingle with those of the silverleafed linden to make a canopy over the path. If you recall the coarse-leafed American lindens seen earlier in the walk, you will understand why these more refined European species are preferred for ornamental planting. To refresh your memory, there is another very large American linden ahead on the right by lamp post L 126.
As you approach the rustic pavilion on the lake, you pass on your left an extensive planting of Japanese cherries, the variety "Kwanzan." The nearby lake shore is a favorite fishing station. The soil in this area is trampled as hard as concrete and the cherries are failing. These delicate garden subjects are not adapted to growing in a heavily traveled area. It is hoped that they will be replaced with more rugged and better defended trees such as cockspur thorns and spiny ash.
On the point, on either side of lamp post L 125, are two sour gums, Nyssa sylvatica, also known by regional names of tupelo and pepperidge. Sour gums are the first trees to show autumn color, sometimes as early as the end of July. Especially when standing in full sun on the edge of green woods, their shiny scarlet or mahogany red foliage is a memorable sight.
The planting by the entrance of the skating rink contains some first-rate material. The glossy-leafed shrub by lamp post L 114, and repeated behind the pipe maze farther ahead, is Euonymus kiautschovica, which you may prefer to call by its former name, E. patens. Judging by the number of inquiries, this is the most admired and least known shrub in Brooklyn. It has clouds of greenish-white flowers in late summer. The fruit, resembling that of its cousin bittersweet, is seldom able to ripen before frost.
The low shrubs massed by the skate shop door are boxleaf hollies, Ilex crenata convexa, with small, cupped, highly polished leaves. The euonymus seems to be able to take anything the city can hand out in the way of air pollution and soot fallout, but the boxleaf holly doesn't always thrive under city hardships as it seems to do here.
Walk beyond the skating rink towards the Lincoln statue and sit for a while under the double row of London planes, Platanus acerifolia. The glorious view of the lake, the focal point of the entire Concert Grove, has been obliterated by a garish building and a stockade of cyclone fencing.
The crescent of London planes at one time framed a cove with an island in its center. On the island, musicians played for the pleasure of those in boats and on shore. Of Olmsted and Vaux's original design, only the trees remain. Their quiet presence underlines the vulgarity of the encroachment. Under the spell of the great trees, you may be able to recreate in your mind the dignity and elegance of this once-beautiful landscape.
At this point you can walk back through the parking lot to the BMT Parkside Station, or go up the steps and through the Concert Grove to the Oriental Pavilion . . . . From here you can either go up the bill to the Lincoln Road Station of the BMT, or pick up the route of Tour I, as you go through Cleft Ridge Span to see the treasured Camperdown elm.
"In the years to come, man will be overwhelmingly a city animal. He will find nature in the city; or he will be in danger of not finding it at all. New York City is fortunate in its natural areas. Men of large vision and bold capacity to act created Central Park when the city had not grown northward of Thirtieth Street, and Prospect Park when Brooklyn was still a grouping of villages and neighborhoods."
August Heckscher, Commissioner of Parks, 1967
FOOTNOTE TO TREE TRAILS
Major changes are taking place in Prospect Park even as this booklet is being printed. Some trees mentioned in the text have died, victims of longstanding neglect or drought. To balance the loss, the Park has gained a director who is genuinely concerned with the sorry condition of the landscape and is taking energetic action to improve its care.
Among the tree casualties are the Turkey oak near the start of Tour I and the quaintly deformed black cherry noted on Tour III. The former was a rare and fine tree, the latter of value primarily as a marker to confirm the route. In addition, and most regrettably, the majority of bald cypresses in the Park, including the specimen described [in] Tour IV, are in critical condition. The severe droughts of 1965-6 have caused what may be irreversible damage to the roots of those moisture-loving trees. The surviving roots are not able to take up enough water to support a full crop of needles. The scanty foliage in turn cannot manufacture enough food to promote growth of a new root system, and so the life of the bald cypresses hangs in uncertain balance.
The new Park Director is James Linden. He has undertaken to repair the havoc caused by decades of ignorance and apathy. As a start, trees near the Willink Entrance are being cleared of dead wood. In the care of trees, however, no amount of energy and good will can take the place of technical competence. Without a trained horticulturist to direct the program, results are hit-and-miss and may in fact cause as much harm as cure. Heavy limbs, instead of being roped harmlessly down, were sawed off to crash on branches below. The ragged stub of the hornbeam has been cut off but extensive fungus infection persists in the limb and probably in the main trunk. Needless mutilation of low branches and shrubbery is still prevalent. A portion of the earth mound has been removed from the cherry birch near the carousel but buried roots on the north side are still suffocating.
Prospect Park, a masterpiece of landscape art, demands the same level of skilled care as the art treasures in our museums. Preserving an ancient tree, like cleaning a Rembrandt, is a job for an expert. The Park's heritage of magnificent trees requires professional care -- the informed attention of a full-time horticultural director to train and supervise a crew of Park Department employees.
Until this vital post is filled, Mr. Linden needs and deserves the help of all friends of Prospect Park. When you notice dead or broken limbs, rotting stubs, erosion from roots, untreated wounds, or insect damage, make a report in writing to Mr. Linden, enclosing a rough sketch of the locality and, if possible, the number of a nearby lamp post. The address is Litchfield Villa, Prospect Park West at 5th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215.
June 21, 1968
A WORD ABOUT THE AUTHOR: M. M. GRAFF, THIRTY YEARS LATER
Shortly after becoming Curator of Prospect Park in January of 1966, I received a letter from Mildred M. Graff -- better known by and with the preferred name of Dicky -- volunteering her services in the park. Dicky was an expert on horticulture, botany in general, and especially on the subject of trees. She had been a suburban gardener for years, had recently moved to Brooklyn, and her book Flowers in the Winter Garden had just been published by Doubleday. We arranged a meeting, and through harmony of personalities and mutual interests became fast friends. I first made use of her expertise by asking her to read and criticize the section on trees in my Prospect Park Handbook that was published in 1967. When the book appeared Dicky joined in promoting its distribution.
Soon afterwards Dicky Graff became director of the Camperdown Fund, formed to solicit resources for professional care of the century old trees in the park. It was named after the unique bonsai-looking Camperdown elm set out near Prospect Park's Cleft Ridge Span in 1872. Brooklyn's famous poet, Marianne Moore, who had been active in the fight to save the nearby Boathouse since 1964, wrote a poem on this Camperdown elm. She and Dicky soon became bosom companions. Miss Moore also had composed a foreword for the Prospect Park Handbook, and, following her death, Mrs. Graff penned a second foreword for the paperback edition of the Handbook published in 1972. It was a touching and informative tribute to the poet, entitled "Remembering Marianne Moore."
The most pleasant of my memories regarding Dicky Graff is our sharing the leadership of the Prospect Park walking tours. She joined me during the third season, in 1968. We handed the bullhorn back and forth at every stop, I pointing out the design features of the park, and Dicky supplying information about the trees and plantings. I learned as much from her as any of the tour participants.
Tree Trails in Prospect Park, published by Greensward Foundation in 1968, is dedicated to Marianne Moore. Dicky's coauthor was George Kalmbacher, taxonomist at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Dicky's Tree Trails in Central Park appeared in 1970, and she shared authorship with Thomas Hanley for Rock Trails in Central Park in 1976. Dicky produced two booklets in 1982, The Men Who Made Central Park and The Making of Prospect Park, which studies led to a monumental work three years later: Central Park -- Prospect Park, a New Perspective. It was innovative in giving credit for the parks' special feature where they belonged, many of them to heretofore unrecognized talents.
For her efforts in maintaining and replacing the natural amenities of the two great city parks, and for promoting an understanding and appreciation of them through the spoken and written word, it is fitting that we honor M. M. Graff on this thirtieth anniversary of publication of Tree Trails in Prospect Park.
23 February 1998