March 19, 2020

Meet the Trees: Prunus Mume

March 19, 2020 • Madison Square Park Conservancy

Our first member of the cherry family is blooming in the Park!

A beautiful burst of pink Prunus mume flowers.

Prunus mume, the Japanese apricot or flowering apricot, is one of the earliest flowering members of its genus. Prunus includes stone fruit relatives such as the sakura, almonds, apricots, plums, cherries, and peaches. Japanese apricots are attractive ornamental trees, with over 300 named cultivars registered.

Closeup of a Prunus mume flower.

Despite its name, P. mume is actually native to China and Korea, not Japan. Its common name, however, reflects its extensive cultivation in Japan over the past 1,500 years where it has been used as the main ingredient in plum liquor.

Closeup of Prunus mume bark.

Japanese apricot’s flower in late winter. The flowers can be single or double in shades of red, pink, or white. Their late winter bloom is one of the earliest sources of food for pollinators in the area, and a vital source of food for bees during warmer winters.

Warmer winters mean bees, like the honey bee pictured here, will be foraging much earlier.

After flowering, the tree produces leaves and develops the small fruits that lend this tree its name. The apricots, though superficially similar to the commonly-eaten Siberian Apricot (Prunus armeniaca), are of far inferior quality and ripen during the summer. While edible, the fruit is regarded as too bitter to be enjoyable; however, the fruit makes excellent jams and preserves.

The prunus mume located across Shake Shack is selfie friendly and a local favorite!

Japanese apricots were introduced to the West via imports to Britain in the mid-1800’s. The specific name, mume, is one variation of the Japanese name for a member of the species Prunus.

Posted on March 19, 2020 23:00 by mspceco mspceco | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 11, 2020

Eastern Grey Squirrels

February 11, 2020 • Madison Square Park Conservancy

Squirrels are friendly Park ambassadors at Madison Square Park. They call the Park their home just like all the other wildlife found within this green oasis. However, many don’t know but human feeding of squirrels can cause major fluctuations in the squirrel population, causing overcrowding and hyper-competition for food and other resources. It shapes the animals to become more aggressive with humans, such as climbing on and biting Park visitors. They also may engage in risky behaviors such as approaching visitors with pet dogs, which leads to all sorts of trouble.

A local squirrel on one of the Park’s 33 Oak trees.

We have found it best for squirrels to eat food that grows in the Park. We have 33 oaks, 4 hawthorns, 7 cherry, 22 crabapple, 1 hackberry, and 3 horse chestnut trees that the squirrels can feed off of. Roughly, this comes out to 11 trees/acre of appropriate species of tree that can feed them, not including any of the understory or perennial material like chokeberry, blueberry, and winter hazel in the Park. (For more information, visit Page 29 of the Madison Square Park Tree Plan)

Another squirrel playing in the Park’s understory shrubs.

Food provided by visitors is unsustainable and often times, an unhealthy resource that harms them. By letting squirrels be wild creatures instead of pets, you end up helping them in the long run, so we ask visitors to stop and appreciate the Eastern Grey Squirrel from a distance. Squirrels have many behaviors that go unnoticed when we ask them to eat from our hand. Stop to observe and you will see how much they enjoy running up and down the many nut trees our horticulture team has placed throughout the Park; you will see them chase each other in a playful fashion; you might even see them bury a nut to trick their thieving friends.

In short, let’s continue to let our creatures stay wild and friendly.

Posted on February 11, 2020 22:25 by mspceco mspceco | 1 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 13, 2020

Winter Birds in the Park

January 13, 2020 • Madison Square Park Conservancy

On January 5, nature lovers, bird lovers, and bird watchers across the country celebrated this year’s National Bird Day! As a managed green space, Madison Square Park is a crucial source of food and shelter for native and migrating fauna during a time of scarcity. House Sparrows, European Starlings, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are just a few birds that have learned to utilize our space to survive the colder winters of New York.

House Sparrow
House Sparrows are one of most common bird visitors to the Park during the winter. Many sparrows nest in holes of nearby structures like streetlights, traffic lights, signs, and even buildings. They especially love the dense bushes and shrubs planted throughout the Park and Worth Square. These plants provide shelter from other predatory birds and humans passing through the Park. It is normal to see these social birds in flocks hopping around and feeding on seeds or discarded food found on the ground.

European Starling
European Starlings wear a different coat during winter when they are no longer breeding. Their body is covered in dark feathers with a spread of bright white spots. It is common to see them moving at a lively pace, foraging for insects and other invertebrates in our lawns and bushes alongside House Sparrows and Rock Pigeons. The many berries found on shrubs throughout Madison Square Park also provide food for European Starlings and other winter birds.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are resourceful woodpeckers that use their beaks to drill small holes into sap producing trees. The sap, and any trapped insects, become a source of food for these sapsuckers—giving them their name. These birds are easy to spot due to their white stripes and vivid red caps. While they lap up sap, Sapsuckers perch themselves vertically on bark leaving them stationary long enough to get a good look and maybe even a photo. Look for these birds and the tiny holes they construct in the north end of the Park where sap producing crabapple trees line the edge of Farragut Lawn.

Local birders and online data collection platforms such as eBird and iNaturalist help us track biodiversity. To learn more about the birds and other flora and fauna throughout Madison Square Park, visit eBird and iNaturalist.

Posted on January 13, 2020 17:33 by mspceco mspceco | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 04, 2019

What’s in Bloom: Fall 2019

November 04, 2019 • Madison Square Park Conservancy

With autumn finally here, there are a variety of fall blooming flowers on display at Madison Square Park. Our horticulturists have chosen five plants currently blooming that we feel brighten up these shortened days and deserve your attention.

First up is the Japanese anemone, Anemone huphensis. Often called windflower due to the way their long, slender stems sway in the wind, A. huphensis is actually native to Central China, not Japan. However, a long history of cultivation in Japanese gardens, as well as its subsequent naturalization in many areas of Japan, has led to the mistaken belief that the archipelago is their original home. Anemone are herbaceous perennials with a tendency to form colonies over time. Emerging from the ground in the spring, anemone blooms from late summer all the way through autumn.

Next is a fall favorite, the aster. In the Park, we have members of the European and Asian genus Aster, as well as the genus of North American natives, Symphyotrichum. Regardless of the genus, asters are fall bloomers, with our asters starting their bloom in September. These flowers are herbaceous perennials and require full sun to perform their best. Here at the Park, we plant Aster ‘Wood’s Blue’ and ‘Wood’s Purple’ that are more resistant to certain diseases. Aster plants are hardy to zone 4.

Ageratina altissima, or white snakeroot, is an herbaceous perennial with profuse clusters of small, white flowers. This woodland plant is native to the eastern U.S. and grows in full sun to part shade. While snakeroot prefers moist soils, it has decent tolerance to dry soils. Snakeroot derives its name from the belief that Native Americans boiled the root to create a medicine for snakebites. The mysterious affliction, called milk sickness that affected European settlers, was caused by drinking milk from cows that had eaten white snakeroot.

Heuchera sanguinea, which are alternately called coral bells, fairy flower, or crimson bells, are another herbaceous perennial that are gracing the Park with their blooms. A native to the western half of the U.S., coral bells are evergreen plants that grow well in shady areas of the garden. Owing to the dry conditions of its native range, H. sanguinea is rather tolerant of dry conditions, making it very suitable for dry, shady areas. As is it evergreen, its foliage, generally of greater ornamental interest than its flowers, will add color and interest throughout the year; in areas with exceptionally cold winters, foliage may be damaged by low temperatures. One of this plant’s common names, alumroot, is a reference to the astringent properties of its roots, which can substitute alum when pickling. The inflorescences rise above the foliage, and the tiny, pink flowers lend an airy feel to the plant.

Last, but far from least, we have Senna alata, emperor’s candlesticks, candlebush, seven golden candlesticks, or a dozen other names paying homage to the flowers of this Central and South American native. S. alata is statuesque bordering on imposing, especially when grown without proper support. As a native of the tropics, the candlebush plant functions best as an annual outside of the southernmost parts of the U.S. In areas not lucky enough to enjoy S. alata as an evergreen, it can start from seed during the winter months and be transplanted outside, where it often reaches heights of between 6 and 8 feet. Come winter it can be brought indoors for overwintering, though this is often difficult. Blooms are seasonal and come after the plant has grown for a while. Candlebush leaves are used as a treatment for ringworm and fungal infections of the skin, owing to the presence of fungicidal compounds. Candlebush plants are hardy to zone 9.

Logged sightings on iNaturalist help Madison Square Park Conservancy understand our urban ecosystem and allow us to create a Park that benefits people, plants, and animals.

Posted on November 04, 2019 22:09 by mspceco mspceco | 13 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 18, 2019

Halloween Sightings: Eastern Red Bat

October 18, 2019 • Madison Square Park Conservancy

An Eastern red bat, Lasiurus borealis, one of our native tree nesting bats, was spotted this month just in time for Halloween. The Eastern red bat can be found in trees anywhere east of the Rockies, making it one of the most common bats in the United States. Eastern red bats nest in trees, shrubs, roofs generally away from dense human habitation, though they are occasionally spotted in crowded urban areas. When roosting they suspend themselves from a single leg resembling an autumn leaf clinging to a branch. Their rusty coloration is their principal means of defense against predation by opossum and birds of prey. Their preferred nesting sites include sycamore, oak, and elm trees. The abundance of these trees at the park is one of the reasons that this species has been sighted despite generally avoiding urban areas, and they are just one of several bat species that our staff has observed nesting here.

Eastern red bats are large for North America, with an average wingspan of 13 inches. Most bats spend the warmer months throughout their range, migrating to the southern reaches looking for warm weather and abundant insects. However, some Eastern red bats do not migrate and have been seen active in the colder areas of their range. During winter, L. borealis hibernates to conserve energy and limit exposure to low temperatures. The increasing number of warm days during the winter and decreasing insect populations has greatly impacted local bat populations as warm days awaken bats from migration only to find no insects to eat.

Eastern red bats, like many bats, are voracious insectivores, consuming insects of all kinds.
Beginning their hunt at dusk, Eastern red bats are quick fliers and prefer to hunt within 500 meters of a light source, likely as their insect prey are attracted to the light. Prey varies depending on the location and season, but the most common insects eaten are beetles and moths. L. borealis has a very distinct means of attack, following their prey in a very steep dive that can take them within inches of hitting the ground before they pull up. This is often mistaken for aggression on the part of the bat, as people are unable to see the tiny moths the bats snack on.

Bats are important members of our ecosystem. Their diet of insects including mosquitoes, is beneficial to humans and helps prevent the spread of mosquito borne illnesses.

Logged sightings on iNaturalist help Madison Square Park Conservancy understand our urban ecosystem and allow us to create a Park that benefits people, plants, and animals.

Posted on October 18, 2019 16:57 by mspceco mspceco | 1 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment