Thursday, April 16, 2009

Brooklyn's Tallest Residents

The borough's trees are budding and blooming, adding a joyful touch of spring to quiet streets and busy avenues alike, and capturing the gaze of many a photographer and blogger in the process. Out in Crown Heights, Eastern Parkway is slowly turning green while the flowering trees on Franklin, Bedford, and other avenues have taken on the resplendent look of white and pink cotton candy in the last week. Pictured above is a flowering dogwood, thriving despite the steady stream of fragrant smoke from the jerk chicken grills of The Spice is Right on Franklin.

The Parks Department has a complete list of New York City's trees here, which you can use to play urban botanist as I did earlier this evening. My amateur investigation--which led me to the assertion that the tree above is indeed a dogwood, and not a crabapple or cherry tree, both of which can also be found on Franklin--produced the following conversation with my neighbor:

Neighbor: Beautiful, aren't they?
Me: Yeah--do you know what kind of trees they are?
Neighbor: No, but they look great when I'm on mushrooms.
Me: Well, I'll google that and see what comes up.
Neighbor: You do that. Goodnight

The trees we were enjoying are some of New York City's most valuable and productive residents. No matter your business or issue, trees along the street are a good thing: they increase property values, they reduce pollution, they collect rainwater and help prevent combined sewer overflows, they block wind, absorb sunlight, and create shade, all of which reduces heating and cooling costs, and they do it all while making the built environment a tolerable and sometimes beautiful place to live. The Parks Department, which manages the city's street trees, counted nearly 600,000 in NYC in 2005-2006, and they have an ambitious plan to add a million more trees to the city (including parks and private lands) in the next decade. The mayor and council are backing them, passing legislation last year that requires the planting of street trees at all new developments.

As a New York City resident, you can request that the parks department plant a tree for you, or you can plant one yourself (more information here). If you're feeling particularly motivated, Trees New York will teach you to care for the trees in your neighborhood. They've certified over 11,000 residents since their founding in 1976, and the work they do is crucial--healthy, happy trees make for a healthier, happier city.

UPDATE (4/17): If you're a motivated Brooklyn resident with a yard, Million Trees NYC is offering a coupon for 20% off trees grown and planted in NYC. Thanks to Team Tish for the heads-up.


  1. As a longtime Crown Heights resident, I wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog! I really love your updates on all the changes in the neighborhood.

    Also - I'd like to tip you off to a new reading series I'm hosting at Franklin Park on the first Thursday of every month. We're featuring bestselling contemporary writers and champion storytellers. For the full schedule, please go to the website (
    Our next event is on May 7.
    Thanks! Looking forward to seeing you there!

  2. Thanks for the tip (and thanks for reading)! I'll do my best to check it out.

  3. The tree in your photo is Pyrus calleryana, commonly known as Callery Pear or Bradford Pear. These used to be commonly planted as street trees in NYC. However, they tend to be short-lived and prone to damage. In the Species List for which you provided the link, it's listed among the Intermediate (height) Trees. The notes there advise to "Plant sparingly" because of these problems.

  4. You gotta be on drugs! You don't know what kind of tree that is?

  5. I don't mean this to be crass, but the past few springs while strolling down a few streets lined with these flowering trees (they're abundant in Clinton Hill - at least I think it's the same kind of tree but I'm not certain), my husband and I have noticed that the smell uncannily resembles a strong cum smell, and we smile… spring is definitely in the air! Any botanists have a good explanation for this besides the obvious?

  6. So much for my amateur botany. Xris, do these trees bear any fruit (I suppose all trees bear some fruit, so the question is actually: "do these trees bear any fruit that resembles what I think of as a pear?)?

    I've also noticed the peculiar aroma of these trees--the brilliant school board in my hometown planted them around our middle school, so I'm used to referring to them by all sorts of unprintable names. This seems to be a nationwide, or at least an east coast, trend--a few of the middle schools I work with here are also surround by the fragrant flowers of Pyrus Calleryana.

  7. This is a slumbering thread I know but I am compelled to respond to the cum-scented trees.

    Born in the BK as I am I was taken to San Fran by the ex who was raised there. We took a nature walk through Tilden Park above Berkeley where, you guessed it, large expanses of park trail smelled like cum. The ex informed me those trails were popular among highschool girls and prone to provoke knowing glances and grins.