New York City saw record warmth in 2015–including several December days with high temperatures in the 60s. A recent walk in the Park may have felt and looked like spring – particularly if you stumbled upon some lovely yellow blooms. They’re Jasminum nudiflorum, or winter jasmine. Though it has similar yellow flowers to forsythia (Forsythia spp.), which blooms in early spring, it’s quite normal for the winter jasmine to be in bloom now.
Hardy and easy to care for, winter jasmine is excellent for an urban park. Its stems root back into the ground, helping to control erosion on slopes, one challenge of urban park landscape management. Winter jasmine also propagates well in rocky areas, like on and around the schist outcroppings of Central Park. Since it grows low to the ground, special equipment – like a shrub rake – may be used to remove fallen leaves around it.
Winter jasmine’s flowers make it easy to identify, as do its ground-creeping dark green stems and foliage, which remain green year-round. Forsythia has similarly green new growth alongside brown and beige old growth, but it grows upright. Another identifying difference is that forsythia can have many buds per node (image B, shown with a red circle) while winter jasmine will only have two buds per node (image A). Forsythia will flower in March or April, and you can find winter jasmine adding bursts of color to the winter landscape in the south end of the Park now!