The 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.

Begin this walk at the entrance to Central Park at Fifth Avenue and East 90th Street.

The Length of the tour is 1.65 miles and takes approximately one hour. Look for markers at the designated stopping points along the way.


Ulmus procera

This 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.

Directly 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.



Prunus x yedoensis

This 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 1912.



Acer platanoides

The 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.



The 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.


Aesculus hippocastunum

This 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 in length.

When 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

The 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.


Robinia pseudoacacia

The 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.

Tilia americana

Across 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."



The 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.


Gleditsia triacanthos

The 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 fall.


Celtis occidentalis

Although 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 tree.



This 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

The 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.


Quercus palustri

This 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.


Carpinus betulus

To 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.


Quercus cerrisi

Imported 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.


Ginkgo biloba

Charles 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.

Acer pseudoplatanus

The 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 areas.


Cedrus atlantica glauca

To 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 ground.


Fagus sylvatica

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.



We 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.


The Reservoir Tour Guide and plant identification markers were made possible by a grant from the Zofnass Family.