You may think I am going to sing again praises to my city about its cultural diversity—that 150 languages are spoken in the borough of Queens alone, that sort of wonder. Not this time. It’s a holiday weekend here in the US—Memorial Day, the one that officially kicks of the summer season. So I think it’s time to focus on the great outdoors and wildlife. In Manhattan, where I am confined today, that means Central Park.
First of all, the park’s very existence of makes a huge difference. Even if we do not live near it, even if we seldom go there, we inhabitants of the concrete are always, on some level, aware of its openness. Somehow that knowledge gives the city a more benign feel. Evidently, Central Park also does more for us than that lovely psychological favor. Experts say it would cost more than $3 trillion to purify our air and water by any other means than the natural ones the city’s parks provide.
Then there are the marvelous facts about the park’s living organisms. Central Park, as you may know, is not a gorgeous preservation of a natural part of Manhattan Island. What was originally there was bulldozed and replaced with a designed pleasure-land for people to enjoy. In addition to the residents of the zoo, it harbors 896 species: 393 plants, 102 invertebrates, 78 varieties of moths, ten of spiders, nine of dragonflies, three of turtles, two species of frogs, and seven of mammals (not counting picnickers, ice cream vendors, softball players, opera singers, or actors of Shakespeare)!
|American elms alive and well!|
The gorgeous American elm tree is just about extinct elsewhere, killed off by Dutch elm disease. Yet, a lovely large stand survives in Central Park.
Years ago, the Scott Seed Company, looking for the strongest variety of lawn grass, found a unique species in Central Park. Where else?
My favorite study of diversity in the park is the one of the microbes in the soil. Those tiny critters determine the chemistry and health of dirt. Studies throughout the world over the past couple of decades counted the number of different microbes in soil in different places. For a long time, no one thought research that question in Central Park. When they did—last year—guess what they found. 170,000 different kinds—as much diversity as there is anywhere else. And apparently, about 2000 of them are unique to our gorgeous green rectangle.
Living in and around the 174 species of Central Park’s trees are hundreds of varieties of birds. Depending on the time of year, you might see starlings, mourning doves, mallards, robins, waxwings—I could go on and on. One group found 46 species in a single day.
|Night heron in Central Park|
Of the birds of the park and the city in general, my absolute favorite is the red-tail hawk. Raptors need high places for nesting and a supply of prey free from agricultural chemicals. There are several mating pairs that come to Manhattan to hatch and raise their babies. It’s a thrill for me to see them circling in the skies overhead. If you want to learn more about them you can read at the Audubon website and see the babies here:
Too cute, huh?
Annamaria – Memorial Day 2015