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Seedlings examined by Oak Interest Group
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Kathryn Hurr | Jun 10, 2020
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Quercus acutissima subsp. kingii
Quercus acutissima Carruth. is a species whose natural distribution covers a vast territory in East and Southeast Asia, from central Nepal...

A New Map of New York's Central Park

I was in New York for a week at the end of April and I was to have one free day before returning home, so I decided to dedicate it to exploring Central Park. While searching on the internet for information to prepare me for my field day, I came across a recent publication that turned out to be invaluable: Central Park Entire, The Definitive Illustrated Map. Published last year, this illustrated comprehensive tree and trail map of Central Park is a wonder to behold: over 19,600 trees individually marked, with each of the 173 species identified with a specific icon. It is the result of the labors over two years of Ken Chaya and Edward Sibley Barnard. Aside from the detail of the information regarding Central Park's trees, the map includes drawings depicting all of the Park's architectural features, shows all paved paths and woodland trails, every lake pond and waterway, highlights all the major rock formations and illustrates all of the Park's recreational areas. 

For the quercophile, there are a total of 2,854 oaks recorded, with 18 species represented. (It is fair to say that Central Park could compete with and surpass most of the world's botanical gardens when it comes to the number, variety and dimensions of the trees that can be found there.) Just over half the oaks in the Park are pin oaks (Quercus palustris) and most of the species are the ones one would expect, i.e., the ones that are native to the area: red oak (Q. rubra) with 584 trees, willow oak (Q. phellos) and black oak (Q. velutina) each with over a hundred, swamp white oak (Q. bicolor), white oak (Q. alba) and chestnut oak (Q. montana - the map uses the synonym Q. prinus) all in the 30-65 range, and scarlet oak (Q. coccinea) with 16. A big surprise was the large number of Turkey oaks (Q. cerris): 356. Presumably this species was favored by the landscapers who designed the park (Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux). There are 33 shingle oaks (Q. imbricaria), which according to oaknames.org is not native to New York state, perhaps those were also favored by the landscapers. Other exotic oaks include English oak (Q. robur), sawtooth oak (Q. acutissima) and bur oak (Q. macrocarpa), with a few specimens each, and in the also-rans we find Shumard oak (Q. shumardii), swamp laurel oak (Q. laurifolia), Spanish oak (Q. falcata) and water oak (Q. nigra) with one or two each. There is one Lea's oak (Q. ×leana) that is listed at Q. spp. in the map's legend, though in one of Ken Chaya's videos (see below) it is correctly described as a hybrid of shingle oak and black oak.

Map detail

The map project has an excellent website that is well worth perusing, especially the series of videos that describe the project and highlight some of the challenges that cropped up, such as new plantings and the storm of Aug 18, 2009, that felled hundreds of trees - after they had been meticulously mapped!

I was fortunate to have a limpid spring day to explore the Park, and I spent a few hours walking the length of the park up the west side, across the quasi-virgin (and practically unpeopled) forest at the north end, then down back the east side, with The Definitive Illustrated Folding Map as my guide. Also in my pocket was Edward Sibley Barnard's New York City Trees, likewise recommendable. Learning to identify the different icons used to represent 

Detail of the Tree and Shrub Legend

each tree takes some effort, and the "folding" quality of the map requires a little patience and ingenuity to be able to consult the legend for this purpose, but I found the effort to be worthwhile, giving the venture a sort of treasure hunt feel that increased enjoyment. The cherry blossoms were in bloom, and the oaks were just budding out, the willow oaks putting out their purple tentacles... I had lived in New York for six years and never really seen more of the Park than the tourist hot spots and certainly not appreciated its dendrological marvels.

So if you visit in New York, or live within day-trip range, make sure you set aside some time to explore Central Park - with this folding map in your hand. You can get it online (also a poster version), but just as easy to pick up a copy in the Park at the gift shop at The Dairy.

A pin oak near the Pool, a few yards from Central Park West and W. 101st Street