Nature, Biodiversity And NYC? Wildflower Week and PlaNYC Prove These Go Together In Perfect Harmony


Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon meadia) at Liz Christy Community Garden provide a visual refuge from hectic Houston Street in NYC. Photo by Bonnie Hulkower.

Spring is in the air. Flowers and ideas are blooming in NYC. NYC has a new nature focus. The updated PlaNYC, released on Earth Day 2011, mentions biodiversity and natural systems for the first time. Nature is officially now a mayoral priority. PlaNYC references the "relationship between city and nature" and the importance of human contact with nature. Connecting city folk with nature is also the mission of NYC Wildflower Week. Wildflower Week reminds New Yorkers to go outside and become acquainted with the nature in their own backyard, and to protect their natural heritage for future generations. Wildflowers play a critical role in promoting biodiversity by supplying food and habitat for native wildlife. Wildflowers also create a pastoral sense of space.Most New Yorkers don't know that there is bona fide nature in the five boroughs, even in Manhattan. New York City has more open space than Los Angeles and Chicago combined, in fact, more than any other city in North America. These 53,000 acres include towering forests, vibrant marshes and grassland meadows. Yet this habitat and the species it is home to are being lost. Of 1,357 native plants ever recorded in New York City, only 778 species remain. In recent decades, Staten Island, the borough with the most open space, has lost more than 30% of its indigenous vegetation, including such botanical treasures as nodding trillium and yellow ladyslipper orchid.

Most people tend to think that such local extinctions are caused by dramatic, isolated incidents. Attention-grabbing events like oil spills or forest fires garner headlines. While these are certainly detrimental, the loss of biodiversity in the New York City area is largely due to the more routine and ongoing destruction and degradation of habitat. Far from being "acts of God" they are mostly acts of government. New York City Wildflower Week is building a constituency to speak up for these spaces and species.

NYC Wildflower Week's 4th annual celebration of NYC's native flora focuses on the theme: "Get To Know the Nature Near You." Starting this past weekend through May 15th, New Yorkers are encouraged to get out and explore the city's 53,000 acres of natural areas at more than 45 events in all 5 boroughs. Activities include guided botanical walks through the city's woodlands and wetlands, tours of native gardens and green roofs, native plant workshops and giveaways, and interactive children's events. Through the native nursery tours and plant giveaways, New Yorkers are also given the tools and opportunity to increase the abundance of local flora in their backyards (or terraces or windowboxs). Local plants are adapted to NYC's ambient conditions, and also serve to attract local pollinators.

"NYC Wildflower Week's mission is to help people reconnect to that sense of wonder by engaging with the nature around them, and celebrating the native biodiversity that makes it possible," says Executive Director and urban botanist Mariellé Anzelone. "We are so pleased that the Bloomberg administration agrees that the relationship between the city and its nature is vital."

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