Branching Out: The Arborists Behind (and in) Central Park’s Trees

Looking through comments on the Conservancy’s social media channels, it's clear that our supporters are fascinated by trees—flowering, evergreen, and deciduous alike. Enthusiasts from all over the world reach out to us daily, eager to track and witness the stunning seasonal transitions from green to yellow to red to bare.

Surpassing our fans in fervor, however, is our very own team of arborists. These tree experts have dedicated their careers to the study, planting, maintenance, and care of trees, and have a deep understanding of Central Park’s more than 18,000 woody plants.

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The Conservancy’s tree care team, enjoying a moment of respite amidst a busy day’s work.

Rooted in science

Arboriculture, the study and cultivation of trees, originates as far back as the Neolithic Revolution in Mesopotamia, circa 4,000 BCE. Most trees that were cultivated and exchanged between civilizations during that era were fruit-bearing, carrying delicious treats like olives, apples, dates, and apricots. Over time, more and more people studied and mastered the art of planting, fertilizing, and pruning species of trees, leading to the arboriculture field that we know today.

Like a doctor who cares for a patient, an arborist monitors an individual tree’s health. This expertise not only comes from experience working with trees, but from studying their origin, what affects them, and what environments set them up for success. After all, a park is only as healthy as its trees.

For the Central Park Conservancy Tree Care team, each day looks different from the next. Depending on the need, some days our arborists will literally scale trees to perform up-close, minimally invasive examinations and prunings. This requires extensive safety precautions, deliberate rope systems, and, of course, a tolerance for heights. Other days, their team spends more time on the ground—diagnosing diseases and removing invasive plants, among other tasks.

While trees are naturally resilient, the New York City environment presents unique pressures that affect the health of urban trees: car exhaust, foot traffic, and extreme heat. Our arborists examine each of these factors when making decisions about where to plant and how to care for the Park’s trees.

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Conservancy arborist Fabrice Rochelemagne uses sonic tomography to perform an advanced tree assessment.

Budding careers

Our arborists are passionate, knowledgeable, and committed to the longevity of Central Park’s trees, but not all of them started in the tree care field.

Fabrice Rochelemagne, a Conservancy arborist, was an English major who eventually desired more time outdoors. His passion for trees crystallized after an internship at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where he discovered that “every tree is its own microcosm”—an entire ecosystem in one plant. Fabrice has been working at the Conservancy for over seven years, but still can’t get enough of the Park’s woodlands. “It’s easy to imagine you’re upstate,” he says.

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Conservancy arborist Karen Satterthwaite takes the necessary precautions to scale and ultimately prune a large tree.

Conservancy arborist Karen Satterthwaite had also craved more time outside after an initial career in an office setting. After completing courses in arboriculture and gaining field experience in the public and private tree care sector, Karen joined the Conservancy team.

And while spring, summer, and fall boast “brilliant displays of color” along Central Park’s tree line, Karen enjoys winter in the Park because of the new ways to identify species. Without leaves, trees are a more challenging puzzle to solve, best distinguished by bark, buds, and branch patterns in the colder months.

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Conservancy arborist Peter Haupt climbs and prunes a swamp white oak tree to support its healthy growth.

Peter Haupt, our Manager of Tree Care, grew up working with trees in western Massachusetts. A nature enthusiast since youth, he studied urban forestry and arboriculture in college, and has been at the Conservancy for over ten years. When asked why he loves being an arborist in the Park, Peter notes that the unique range of tree species, both native and ornamental, keep his job interesting.

While each of our arborists are experts in their field, they agree that visitors to the Park can also play an important role in caring for its 18,000 trees. Their advice? Stay on the walking paths, avoid stepping on exposed tree roots, and throw away your trash in the proper receptacles. And of course, look up as often as possible for a moment of inspiration. “Trees are meant to be enjoyed,” Karen says.

Right tree, right place

With thousands of trees in Central Park, there are countless opportunities for exploration and moments of awe. Our Tree Guide is helpful for budding tree connoisseurs who are eager to improve their identification skills. It not only shows the breadth of tree species in the Park, but also where to locate them.

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When trees shed their leaves for the winter months, they are best identified by bark and branch, like this London Planetree.

For those seeking an immersive experience, the Conservancy offers a range of tree tours and activities for families. Embark on a Great Lawn Tree Walk, which invites Park-goers to explore the iconic area that was once the City’s reservoir. Or try the East Meadow Tree Walk, an idyllic stroll through the lush landscape of the East Meadow and amid the crabapple allées of the Conservatory Garden.

While learning about native and non-native trees and enjoying the beauty of your surroundings, record observations about this flora and Central Park wildlife in our downloadable Discovery Journals, which contain enriching activities that allow children to investigate their connection to greenspaces and the birds, butterflies, and bats that depend on them.

A clutch of parkgoers on a blanket beneath towering trees dramatically lit as the sun sets behind Cedar Hill

Support our Work

Our work to care for Central Park's 18,000 trees would not be possible without your support. Make a donation today and help us keep the Park beautiful in all seasons.