Breaking News — Pennsylvania cudweed has been discovered in Central Park!
Pennsylvania cudweed (Gamochaeta pensylvanica) has been confirmed to be growing naturally in Central Park, amidst one of the highest population densities on the planet and likely the most-visited urban park in the world.
The plant was found as part of the quest to document all of the “spontaneous” plant species in Central Park — the Central Park Flora Project — a three-year partnership between Central Park Conservancy and the New York Botanical Garden. The Conservancy uses data from the Central Park Flora to inform management and restoration decisions as part of our work to care for Central Park. Spontaneous plants are naturally occurring; they have established in the landscape and continue to reproduce on their own.
In December 2015, Central Park Flora botanists were surveying near Sheep Meadow, a heavily used lawn in the south western part of Central Park. Along the fence line they were surprised to find a small population of Gamochaeta, a genus in the Aster family that is uncommon in New York State. The botanists took a sample to the New York Botanical Garden to confirm its specific identity. After consulting with regional botanists the team learned that the species was in fact not restricted to Central Park but actually occurs more abundantly in similar habitats in Queens, Brooklyn, and parts of Long Island, confirming that Pennsylvania cudweed is spreading.
Whether this spread is good or bad news remains to be seen, but certainly this collaborative data collection and sharing process underscores the importance of rapid communication among researchers and urban park managers in order to effectively monitor and manage the biodiversity of these critical urban green spaces. The process also demonstrates that urban parks are not isolated but rather part of the larger fabric of landscapes that make urban environments vital oases for all flora and fauna, and connect urban habitats with suburban and rural habitats. Here at the Institute for Urban Parks, the documentation of Pennsylvania cudweed in Central Park reminds us that we are stewards of a living landscape that is always changing, sometimes in surprising ways.