Central Park Ecosystem Worksheet





Gary Lincoff 2017


What is Central Park?

Central Park is a man-made construction of 19th Century Landscape Design composed of a discrete number of introduced plants and a very large number of “wild” plants, animals, fungi, protozoans, algae, and bacteria.

Where is Central Park?

Latitude: 40 N

Longitude: 74 W

Altitude: 115 Feet

Why does knowing this matter?

Plants and animals live within defined

areas – north & south, east & west,

sea-level to mountainous…..

How big is Central Park, and how much land vs water ?

 Central Park is about 850 acres, 200+ of which are water features.

Inland vs Sea-shore Environments

How far is Central Park from the sea? 12 miles

Why does this matter?

Many plants & animals live in saline

(salty) environments lacking in

Central Park.

What is the average Central Park soil pH – and why does it matter to know this?

Soil pH in Central Park is acidic, in places very acidic. It favors plants in families that thrive

in acidic soils, like the Ericaceae (Heath Family), which includes Rhododendron and Azalea,

Mountain Laurel, Blueberry……Plants in the Rosaceae (Rose Family), like cherry, apple, crabapple,

hawthorn, serviceberry, blackberry and raspberry, etc., though commonly planted in the park,

grow better in more alkaline soils. Acidic soil can be limed in places to make the soil more alkaline.

Day and Night

When did it get light this morning? 5am on May 21; 6ish on Sept. 14th

When did the sun rise today (5/21): 5:34am on May 21; 6:36 am on Sept. 14th

When will the sun rise on the summer solstice? 5:25 am

When will the sun set today? 8:12 pm on May 21; 7:06 pm on Sept. 14th

When will the sun set on June 21?: 8:31

When will it actually get dark on the Summer Solstice? 9-ish

Later in Riverside Park than Central Park – and later in Pittsburgh than in NYC

When do the birds start to sing in morning? 5 am (which is 4 am EST)

What time will the fireflies appear on the Solstice? About 8:20 pm


Why do Day and Night times matter?

early spring blooming times are

triggered by lengthening daytimes

(and shortening darkness)

Composites (plants related to sunflowers

bloom after the summer solstice; most

plants bloom well before the solstice.

Chlorophyll production decreases and

shuts down within 6 weeks of the

summer solstice, well before “fall” begins,

as plants get ready for winter dormancy.

What is the annual precipitation in the park?

                  49 inches

This is a fraction of Rainforest totals,

but far greater than, say, Denver, CO.,

and enough to allow for a luxuriant

growth of plants, and food for animals.

Central Park Phenology: What follows what?

What organisms “appear” together

There is a predictable sequence of

plants coming into bloom or fruit, just as

there is a predictable appearance

of things that appear together, like

Shadbush (Amerlanchier) coming

Into flower about the time the shad are

Running in nearby rivers.

When do flowers open and close every day, and why is this important to know?

Some flowers open early in the morning –

Star-of-Bethlehem, for example, opens early

and closes noonish or soon afterwards.

Evening primrose and Datura (Jimsonweed)

pen in late afternoon. Some flowers in the

park don’t open until early evening.

Flowers open when their pollinators are

up and about, and close when they’re gone.

Some even help their pollinators be more

efficient (gather more pollen) by changing

color when their pollen has been taken!

What is the sequence of pollen in the air?

Week by week and hour by hour?

For example – dominant pollens:

Mid-April: maple, juniper, poplar

Late-April: maple, birch, oak

Mid-May: oak, mulberry, grasses

Pollen reports reflect wind-borne

pollen – plants that attract animal

pollinators do not matter here….

Pollen reports are made daily from LIJ

Hospital. Pollen counts are highest early

in the morning…..


Some Central Park Ecologies to be explored

1             The wall encircling Central Park:

mosses, lichens, and ferns

2             Central Park lawns:

grasses, plantain, and clover

Clover is a soil fertilizer – with

Bacterial nitrogen-fixers on roots!

3             Dandelions create a thriving ecosystem

early bee pollen & nectar;

visited by 100 different insects!

Increases plant biodiversity many fold

Grows as a clone! Very adaptive

to lawn mowers – grows beneath blade

4             The Rhizosphere (up to 4” underground)

fungi, bacteria, protists galore

5             Wood-chip mulch about trees & shrubs

Numerous mushrooms and weeds

6             On fallen wood

Fungi as primary decomposers

7             On standing trees, living or dead

lichens, algae, epiphytic plants,

ferns, vines, fungi (as both

saprophytes & parasites)

8             Central Park Lake & other waters

cyanobacteria, protozoans,

algae, duckweed, pickerelweed,

cattail, bulrushes, arums, etc.


Classification of organisms in Central Park

Traditional Kingdoms

Bacteria: Cyanobacteria & nitrogen-fixers

         Protists: uni & multi-cellular nucleated

cells; organisms lacking an embryo




Conifers & other Gymnosperms

Flowering Plants (Angiosperms)


Ascomycetes (mostly pathogens)

Basidiomycetes (mushrooms)









How do VIRUSES fit into this system?

Viruses can only live inside

plants, animals, and fungi, where they

can grow and reproduce. Getting inside

depends on a variety of necessary pre-

conditions. Controlling their growth is

easier for some organisms. Viruses are

reduced “organisms,” that cannot live

and breed on their own outside a host.


Some examples of organisms in Central Park



Cyanobacteria – ubiquitous in water

Rhizobia – on roots of Bean Family plants

Many are ubiquitous on & in plants & animals


Protozoans ubiquitous in water

Algae – green algae are dominant, red occur

Slime molds common after rain


Mosses common on CP wall

Ferns: common in CP Ramble

Gymnosperms & conifers: Ginkgo

And 30 species in Pine Family

And other families

Angiosperms (Flowering Plants):

Orchids, Cattail, Trilliums

25,000 trees (at least 6” dia.)

representing 200 species


Ascomycetes: most plant pathogens

e.g., Black Knot of Cherry

No accurate totals known yet.

Basidiomyces: gilled mushrooms,

Boletes, polypores, crust fungi,

Jelly fungi, puffballs & stinkhorns

Approx. 500 species are recorded.

Lichens – Mostly Ascomycete fungi in

a mutualist relationsip with an

alga – on most trees and rocks…

More than 25 species….a great

comeback once sulfur-dioxide

was removed from our “air.”

Soil fungi in Central Park are equal

in biodiversity to soil fungi numbers

everywhere in soil on Earth.

There are approx.. 17,000 “species.”



Aquatic species, including

Crayfish and

Freshwater Jellyfish (!)


Ants, Bees, Wasps, Fireflies,

Dragonflies, Butterflies &


Spiders & Mites



Largemouth Bass, goldfish,

Catfish, perch, snakehead

Amphibians: Bullfrog

Reptiles: Turtles (6), snakes (?)

Birds: 250 or so altogether (?)

Year-round: about 10?


Bats (4), Chipmunk, Rabbit,

Mole, Muskrat, Opposum,

Norway rat, Shrew, Squirrels





Use ALL your senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch

and taste


Keep a Calendar for flowering and fruiting dates,

and  for everything you see, hear, smell, touch,

and taste in the park…..


10 solutions for Climate Change (Scientific American) – from 2007 – How many for you?

1) Forego Fossil Fuels; 2) Infrastructure Upgrade; 3) Move Closer to Work; 4) Consume Less; 5) Be Efficient; 6)  Eat Smart, Go Vegetarian; 7) Stop Cutting Down Trees 8) Unplug; 9) One Child;

10) Future Fuels


A Few Things to do to help Central Park:

1)         Become a Central Park Volunteer!

2)         Become a Citizen-Scientist: Learn how

to manage our public park environment as if it is your own property. Report problems.

3)         Learn to recognize tree diseases, like Dutch Elm Disease, Oak Wilt, London Plane Massaria disease, Black Knot of Cherry – and notify park officials.

4)         Learn to recognize unwise watering -

Early morning is best – gives plants time

for their leaves to dry (and avoid fungal

infections) – Report afternoon watering.

5)         Mowing lawns is not a slam dunk –

When to cut grass, and how short to cut it –

Proper mowing (depends on type of grass)

creates a low maintenance, drought

resistant lawn….

6)         Central Park waters (lakes, ponds, rills)

often fill in with “pond scum” each summer.

Learn the biology of “pond scum” – a mix

of duckweed and algae. The best solution

is the installation of water pumps to keep

the water moving, especially over summer.




The Environment in the Bible:

1) Man has dominion over all things on earth

2) Man is the steward of the Garden:

taking care of it, managing it….

The Environment as we might view it today:

We ARE the environment. We ARE nature.

We are NOT separate from the world around

us. It is especially difficult to see ourselves as

not unlike ecologies we study in the park – but

we are a consortium of bacteria and protists

and fungi, and viruses!, as well as plant pollen,

and much else that we imbibe and inhale.




The Environment as seen and used by those who came before us – the Coastal Lenape People…..    

The Coastal Lenape had a foraging dominant economy…..Even when corn (maize) arrived, it was never a maize based economy. The seashore provided much of their nutrient needs, and greens, berries, and nuts were gathered. To hunt land animals, they used fire to clear the land. Over time, Manhattan Island was burned down over and over – and forests regenerated from buried seeds. It was a successful economy for a couple of thousand years – and ours today?

The Lenape lived mostly out of doors, but for protection from inclement weather and to rest during the night, they built wigwams and long-house shelters. [“Mannahatta” by Eric Sanderson]

The scholar of the Lenape, Herbert Kraft, wrote that, like many people who live close to the land, they ‘saw themselves as an integral park of a natural world filled with an almost infinite variety of plants, animals, insects, clouds and stones, each of which possessed spirits no less important than those of human beings.’ [quoted in “Mannahatta”]


From Rabbi Burt Jacobson: “The Eclipse of Wonder – Abraham Joshua Heschel and our Ecological Crisis…..

Heschel knew that there was something very wrong with the way human beings were living in the modern world. In 1951, in his book on the Sabbath, he wrote that our war with nature had come to resemble a defeat: “We have fallen victims to the work of our hands; it is as if the forces we had conquered have conquered us.” (The Sabbath, p. 27) Yet he says that Judaism doesn’t teach us to reject civilization, but to surpass it by attaining some degree of independence from it. “The Sabbath is the day on which we learn the art of surpassing civilization.”

In 1955, eight years before Rachel Carson’s book appeared, Heschel wrote the following deeply prophetic words: “As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Humankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation.” (God in Search of Man, p. 46) This then would, I believe, be Heschel’s way of understanding what is at the root of the environmental crisis: the eclipse of wonder, awe and appreciation, and its replacement by mindlessness, greed and domination.