Reservoir and surrounding area includes an eclectic selection
of trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants from around the
world. More recently, a wide variety of native plants
have been introduced to provide a more natural setting.
The guided walk will lead you along a section of the bridle
trail encircling the Reservoir that is frequented by horseback
riders and strollers in search of a country-road setting.
this walk at the entrance to Central Park at Fifth
Avenue and East 90th Street.
Length of the tour is 1.65 miles and takes approximately
one hour. Look for markers at the designated stopping
points along the way.
1. JOHN PURROY MITCHEL MONUMENT ENGLISH ELM
entrance to Central Park at 90th Street and Fifth Avenue
is frequented by thousands of visitors each day. The name,
Engineers' Gate, was chosen by the Park's original Board
of Commissioners in recognition of one of the professions
that they considered made New York a great metropolis.
New Yorkers commonly refer to this entrance as "Runners'
Gate" because it is here that thousands of runners
enter the Park; it also serves as the traditional start
and finish line for many races. At the edge of the Reservoir
is a monument memorializing John Purroy Mitchel, who at
the age of 34 served as New York City's youngest mayor
from 1914 to 1918.
in front of the memorial stands a majestic 140-year
old English elm. The shoots coming out of the trunk
and branches are commonly called suckers. These arise
from epicormic buds (latent buds in the bark of the
tree). Although not all English elms have suckers, they
are notorious for producing this unusual growth. These
suckers are often pruned to maintain the structure of
the tree; Central Park arborists prune this tree every
second year. The English elm flowers in the early months
of February and March and produces thousands of lime-green
seeds by May. In late spring these seeds eventually
turn brown and are dropped as the tree then invests
energy in growing leaves.
2. YOSHINO CHERRY
Prunus x yedoensis
grove of small trees with hanging boughs is a stand of
Yoshino cherry trees. In April, dark pink buds open to
produce a spectacular display of pale pink flowers. They
are among the first species to bloom, before they and
other trees have leafed out. This is the most common ornamental
flowering cherry in Central Park; it makes for quick growth
and is a true harbinger of spring. Some of the older specimens
of Yoshino cherries along this trail may be the original
trees given as a gift to the United States by Japan in
3. NORWAY MAPLE
characteristically shaped leaves and winged seeds of this
Norway maple easily identity it as a member of the maple
family. Other species found in Central Park are the sugar
maple, red maple, and sycamore maple. The Norway maple
is easily distinguished from other maples by the milky
sap found in the stems. Since its introduction to North
America, the Norway maple has often been used as a street
tree because of its quick growth and tolerance to urban
pollution. Because of its aggressive nature - producing
numerous seeds and countless seedlings - this tree has
a tendency to take over and become a pest in our woodlands
and cultivated areas.
4. RESERVOIR HISTORY
jogging path just beyond the Norway maple affords an excellent
view of the Reservoir and the unmistakable Central Park
West skyline. The Reservoir was opened in 1862, four years
after the construction of the Central Park began. Its
original purpose was to supply water from the Croton Aqueduct
to local Manhattan residents; it was taken offline
in 1991. This large body of water is a habitat for aquatic
vegetation and fish and attracts species of water fowl,
wading birds, and diving birds, making it one of the prime
bird-watching areas in Central Park.
large-leaved tree is native to the Balkans and is not
related to the American chestnut. Its American counterpart
is the Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra). Each horsechestnut
leaf is not a simple leaf, but actually a group of seven
smaller leaflets. In late spring, this species blooms
with upright clusters of beautiful white flowers with
red and yellow spotted bases that can reach one foot
pollinated, a flower develops into a fruit with a spiny
green capsule that contains two seeds, or conkers. In
the game of conkers, British children traditionally
thread each conker and attempt to break their opponent's
seed. Unfortunately, fungal leaf blight is compromising
the health of many horsechestnuts. The blighted leaves
have yellow spots that turn brown and coalesce into
a shriveled mass. The tree is easily identified during
the winter months by its inch-long fat sticky buds.
Plantanus x acerifolia
London planetree, seen here at the northeast corner of
the Reservoir, is one of the largest trees in Central
Park and may date back to the original plantings done
at the time of the Reservoir's completion in 1862. This
species is a naturally occurring hybrid between the American
sycamore and the Chinese sycamore and the leaves bear
a close resemblance to maple leaves. The round fruit of
the London planetree hangs singly or in pairs, maturing
in autumn and persisting until winter. The tree's most
dramatic feature is its bark, which flakes to show younger
nd lighter colored inner bark that easily distinguishes
it from other Park trees. Because it is able to thrive
in polluted environments, the London planetree has become
one of the most popular urban trees.
tree to the left of the path with an irregular crown of
upright branches and small leaflets is the black locust.
Because of its hard wood, this native species has a long
history of usage by Native Americans and colonists. It
was introduced to Europe in the 1600s and by the mid 19th
century was widely planted throughout Europe for ornamental
purposes. In the United States, it was native southern
Pennsylvania and Georgia west to the Mississippi. Colonists
spread it eastward. Like the horsechestnut, the leaves
of the black locust are compound, each leaf having up
to as many as 19 leaflets. In the late spring, sweet white
blossoms can be seen hanging like pendants from its branches.
As a member of the pea family, the black locust produces
long pods containing bean-like seeds and derives a significant
portion of its nitrogen from Rhizobium bacteria that associate
with its roots.
the path from the black locust is the American linden.
This species is best known for its small flowers that
hang in clusters and emit a sweet honeysuckle-like fragrance
in late spring. Because of its susceptibility to pests
and a low tolerance to city conditions, this tree is no
longer commonly used in urban landscapes. Insects also
play a key role as pollinators of this species. Bees are
among the most common, and this has earned the Amencan
linden its other name, the "bee tree."
NATIVE HERBACEOUS PLANTINGS
native herbs used in this and other plantings create a natural
setting around the Reservoir. In this particular planting,
species that attract butterflies have been used. Butterflies,
along with other insects, birds, and mammals, help to pollinate
herbs and trees, ensuring their reproduction and the distribution
of seeds. Prominent species here include common milkweed,
blue and white wood aster, red switch grass, and black-eyed
susan. Monarch butterflies rely exclusively on milkweed
and butterflyweed to complete their life cycles.
honeylocust can be distinguished from the black locust
by its twice-divided leaf. This can be penately or bi-penately
compound. This bark is unlike that of the black locust;
it is dark gray with scaly ridges. There are large spines
growing from the trunk that can reach as much as one foot
in length. These thorns are very sharp and most likely
evolved as a mechanism for the tree's defense.
Horticultural varieties are thornless and podless; however,
they sometimes revert to the original type. The leathery
dark brown or black pods produced by the honeylocust can
be more than a foot in length. The fruit matures in the
it is in the same family as the elms, Ulmaceae, the hackberry
is not susceptible to Dutch elm disease. This species
is found in the natural river valleys of the mid-Atlantic
and the southern United States. The young smooth gray
bark of the hackberry forms cork-like ridges as the tree
matures. The round growth is called a burl; burls usually
form in response to an insect or fungal infection, but
it is not known what caused the growth on this particular
tree. Birds relish the dark purple fruit that ripens in
September. They disperse the seeds far from the original
bridge is one of 37 bridges and arches in Central Park,
each displaying its own architectural style. Bridge #28,
the Gothic Bridge, has a cast-iron structure adorned with
floral patterns hidden in the iron-work. It is surrounded
by floral plantings of periwinkle, hay-scented fern, Christmas
fern, Pennsylvania sedge, asters, and Japanese kerria.
On your guided tour around the Reservoir; be sure to take
a moment to admire the two other pedestrian bridges that
span the bridle path: Bridge #27, just off the West Drive
at 86th Street, and Bridge #24, near the South Gate House.
Prunus serrulata v. Kwanzan
Kwanzan cherry is another ornamental cherry tree from
Japan that is admired for its spring blossoms. Blossoming
when the Yoshino cherry has finished its showy display,
the Kwanzan cherry has large clusters of rosy pink blossoms.
It also differs from other flowering cherries in its phenology;
the flowers remain for a longer period of time and the
leaves begin to grow while the flowers are still in bloom.
The blossoms produced by this tree are even more pronounced
because of their pink color, and there are double flowers
with as many as 30 petals per flower. The bark is a deep,
shiny maroon with horizontal pairs of lenticils. This
is especially noticeable during the winter months.
is the most common oak in Central Park. Other oaks found
in Central Park are the red, white, swamp-white, shingle,
bur; willow, and the non-native turkey and sawtooth oaks.
The pin oak can be easily identified by its unique silhouette.
The straight trunk has ascending upper branches, horizontal
middle branches, and drooping lower branches; here the
low branches have been removed, but in the wild they would
hang dead for many years when they are shaded out by upper
branches. This tree is also commonly known as swamp oak
because of its preference for growing in saturated soils.
The leaves of the pin oak are lobed like most oak leaves,
but the lobes are more deeply cut than other oaks. After
changing to rich red/maroon colors in the autumn, the
leaves remain on the tree throughout most of the winter
and serve as cover for many wildlife species. As you walk
along the west side of the Reservoir, you'll encounter
many other pin oaks lining the bridle trail.
the left of the trail stands a European hombeam. This is
a small tree that is distinguished by its uniqtie fluted
bark resembling flexed muscles. This has given it, as well
as its close American relative, the common name of "ironwood"
or "musclewood." The wood of these trees is exceptionally
hard and able to absorb tremendous shocks; in the past it
was used for making handles, spokes, and small tools. The
tree is tolerant of shady, dry conditions, which is typical
of understory plants.
from its native region in the Balkans, the European turkey
oak is not related to the native turkey oak (Quercus leavis).
It is not widely used outside parks and arboretums. Its
most distinctive feature is the long acorn set in sha1low
fuzzy cups. The dark gray bark is very rough and deeply
fissured. This is one of the final trees in Central Park
to drop its leaves in the fall.
Darwin called the ginkgo a "living fossil" because
it was found to have evolved during the Jurassic period
(approximately 150-210 million years ago), unlike the
oaks that evolved during the Cretaceous period (approximately
70-150 million years ago). Its only appearance in natural
stands is in eastern China. It was long used in cultivation
in Japan and Korea before being introduced into Europe
in the 18th century. This species is more related to conifers
than to more recently evolved flowenng trees because it
has a "naked seed."
Today the ginkgo is a common tree planted in urban areas
around the world. Highly adaptable to a variety of conditions
and virtually pest free, it is a good choice for street
and park plantings. The leaf is unique, closely resembling
a maidenhair fern; this is why the ginkgo is often referred
to as the maidenhair tree. The cleaned nuts are silver
in color (ginkgo means silver in Chinese) and are sold
as food and eaten at social gatherings.
sycamore maple, which is native to Europe, is now commonly
seen planted across the United States. It has rough bark
that peels off in flaky scales, distinguishing it from the
Norway maple, which has thicker, furrowed bark. The leaf
has a very leathery texture and is dark green on the top
and light green underneath. The yellow-green flowers hang
in pendulous clusters. It is somewhat adaptable to salt
spray, making it popular as a street tree or for shoreline
planting; however; like the Norway maple, the sycamore maple
is extremely aggressive and has a way of escaping into natural
Cedrus atlantica glauca
the left across this small lawn are two blue-atlas cedars.
This species is native to the arid Atlas Mountains of
Algeria and Morocco. Fortunately, the blue-atlas cedar
also tolerates the cold winters and humid summers of our
climate. Like most needle-leaved trees, the needles of
the blue-atlas cedar are coated with a wax deposit that
helps minimize water loss. When given ample room to grow,
the branches spread to such an extent that its width almost
equals its height. The needles are found in bundles, with
upright cones that disintegrate upon maturity. This allows
the seeds to be released before the cones fall to the
European beech is one of the most handsome of all species
found in Central Park. Its massive form, shiny leaves, and
distinctive bark set it apart from other trees. Beech trees
are commonly recognized by their smooth, smoky-gray bark
and dense crown of branches spreading almost to the ground.
The elephant hide-like bark at the base of this tree is
unique to the European beech and is not found on the American
beech. The leaves of the two species are also distinct.
The leaves of the European beech have wavy edges compared
with the toothed leaves of the American beech. This is a
beautiful tree year-round, especially in the autumn when
the leaves take on a golden bronze color.
are once again on the east side of the Reservoir. This
path from 86th to 96th Street, the only straight trail
of such length in Central Park, is very uncharacteristic
of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Here, the preset
layout of the Reservoir and the street grid of New York
City restricted the design of the architects. Despite
the physical limitations, they managed to design plantings
that would cause the visitor to ignore the bustling city
just beyond the stone wall. Growing along the slope beside
you is Rhododendron Mile. This is an ongoing planting
project, consisting of rhododendrons, daffodils, and azaleas.
The mission of the Central Park Conservancy is to restore,
manage, and preserve Central Patk, in partnership with
the public, for the enjoyment of present and future generations.
Since its founding in 1980, the Conservancy has completed
major capital improvements; developed and implemented
a major management and restoration plan; created programs
for volunteers and visitors; built an endowment to ensure
continued Park maintenance; and set new standards of excellence
in Park care.
Reservoir Tour Guide and plant identification markers were
made possible by a grant from the Zofnass Family.
Copyright © 1999 - 2003 EFCG Inc.