November 19, 2013

A Forest in the Bronx

Of the five boroughs of New York City, the Bronx is arguably the greenest, with over 7,000 acres of parkland, which means around 25% of the borough’s land is set aside for recreation and relaxation.

And what’s more, 50-acres of that—our own Thain Family Forest—is the largest remaining remnant of the primeval forests which once covered the entirety of New York City before colonization. This un-cut, old growth woodland was once home to the Lenape Indians, and today is home to an assortment of native animals and plants and the scientists who study them.

The Forest contains over a mile of hiking trails which weave along and over the Bronx River. The Bronx River is New York City’s only freshwater river (the Hudson River is a fjord and is tidal up to Troy, and the East River is a tidal straight connecting to the Long Island Sound) and is home to New York City’s only beaver population, and a returned population of alewife, as well as an assortment of waterfowl and other local fish, reptiles, and amphibians. At certain special events held at the Garden, and in conjunction with our partners at the Bronx River Alliance, it is possible to canoe on the river, though there is a portage around the waterfall and gorge.

The Forest, and the adjacent woodland of the Native Plant Garden, is home to an important collection of deciduous trees including newly reintroduced American Chestnuts, the incredibly tall London planes, many varieties of maple, birch, and oak, along with sweetgum, tulip trees, and hickory, and populations of troubled species like hemlocks, elm, and ash. The Forest also contains an important collection of conifers. In addition, the understory is populated by beautiful native shrubs and small trees including shadbush, eastern redbud, dogwood, American hazelnut, and home to a beautiful display of spring ephemeral wildflowers. See a complete listing of all the plants in the Thain Family Forest here.

The animals that call the Thain Family Forest home are every bit as diverse and interesting as the plants that serve as their homes and food. In addition to the very famous beavers, the Forest is also home to a population of great-horned owls with a penchant for nesting in trees that allow for easy observation—a rarity in any forest, let alone one situated in the middle of a city! The owls are joined by many, many other birds, including red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks, saw-whet owls, barred owls, a gorgeous array of migrating warblers, cheeky chickadees, hummingbirds, turkeys, herons, ducks, and so many more! In addition, keep an eye out for muskrats, snapping turtles, black squirrels, raccoons, and even the occasional fox. Don’t bet on seeing all these animals when you visit though. Many of them are very shy and will only come out at night. But the most important thing is this: Please do not feed the animals, and please do not approach them or try to pet them. We want them to stay wild forever!

So, I do hope that our guide to the flora and fauna of the Thain Family Forest has enticed you to come visit us. The easiest way to reach the Garden is by Metro-North Rail Road on the Harlem Line from Grand Central Terminal. It is an approximately 22-minute ride that lets you off at Botanical Garden Station, directly across from our entrance. We’re always happy to answer your questions, so feel free to drop us a line. The Forest is beautiful in all seasons, yes, even in winter! So don’t let cooler temperatures dissuade you. I hope to see you on the trails soon! ~AR

Photos by NYBG photograher Ivo M. Vermeulen, and from the digital archives of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library.

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