Central Park trees include nine of New York City’s so-called “Great Trees.” In 1985, New York City embarked on a “Great Tree Search,” seeking nominations from ordinary citizens for trees of unusual size, form, species, or historical association. Of the millions of trees across the five boroughs, 65 were chosen as the Great Trees of New York City. There are 19 in the Bronx, 13 in Brooklyn, 9 in Queens, 10 in Staten Island, and 14 in Manhattan—9 of which are right in Central Park (a 10th, the Evodia near Heckscher Playground, appears to have been removed).
Visiting these Central Park trees feels like participating in a piece of community history, and you’ll get a great walking tour of the park along the way. We started at the south end at the Mall and worked our way up, though you could just as easily start at the Reservoir and walk down.
1. Grove of American Elms (Central Park Mall)
The largest grove of American elms in the world canopies Central Park’s Literary Walk, creating a stippled stained-glass effect overhead. This is one of two groves on the Great Trees list, and standing in its midst, you can see why it would be impossible to pick a single tree. The evenly-spaced trunks, sinuous branches, and dappled light make for a space that is both lively and serene—many say cathedral-like.
The elms stand tall (some over 90 feet) thanks to vigorous efforts on the part of the Central Park Conservancy. In the 1930s, Dutch elm disease entered the United States in a shipment of imported furniture, and quickly spread throughout the city. By the 1980s, the Park was losing as many as 100 elms per year. Today, that rate is much lower (though a bad year can still claim as many as 35). The elms on the Mall are inspected regularly, and when one elm must come down, a new one is planted in its place. An added bonus at the grove of American elms: the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument, newly unveiled on Literary Walk.