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Plant Focus

Quercus macdougallii
A rare oak endemic to the Sierra Juárez in Oaxaca

The Oaks of New York City

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Roderick Cameron

Published May 2022 in International Oaks No. 33: 127–158


You are never far from an oak in New York City: you can find them in the streets, in the squares, in the smaller parks, in the grand landscaped parks, in the nature reserves, in the wild forests, along the riverfronts and beaches. Some grow spontaneously, the others have been planted for reasons ornamental, environmental, or monumental: enhancing the beauty of streets and parks, improving the quality of urban life, or serving as memorials to key events and persons in the City’s past. During a couple of short sojourns in the Big Apple, I dedicated some time to studying their diversity, history, and performance in the various locations where they are found. Then I looked for a way to tell their story. Garden designer Piet Oudolf once said, “Plants are characters I compose with and I put them on the stage” (Bradshaw 2019). Given New York’s rich theatrical tradition, perhaps we could take his cue and consider the oaks as actors interpreting characters in a play. So let us pretend for a moment that all New York’s a stage and all the oak trees in it merely players. You, reader, can be a producer putting together a theater company, and I will be the casting director proposing who might best play the different roles called for in a Broadway show.


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