Blogger Maps Every Tree in Tompkins, Minus the Stumpers

TSPTIP Print Map 9 12 12Michael Natale

Dennis Edge, the birdwatcher, isn’t the only one sharing his wisdom about the flora and fauna of Tompkins Square Park this weekend.

Yesterday, Michael Natale of Gamma Blog posted a high-resolution map of the park’s trees and generously shared it with The Local. On Saturday, he’ll talk about his quest to identify every single one of them.

The Houston Street resident, who moved to the neighborhood in 1978, started cataloging the park’s trees about a year ago, after reading about a pair of Central Park leaf-peepers and noticing that a 1998 map offered by the Tompkins Square Park Conservancy was “way out of date.”

“A lot of trees were long gone and not all the trees were listed and they were just little dots on the map and I found it really not that useable,” he said.

Mr. Natale, 64, decided it was time for an update. “I thought, ‘It can’t be that hard,’” he said, admitting that he soon learned otherwise and spent “endless” hours engaged in the “insanely difficult” task of pacing off accurate distances, gauging trunk diameters, and trying to tell the difference between a Japanaese scholar tree and a black locust (he’s still not sure about that one, and hopes to get help from local tree mavens this weekend). In short, what was to be an arborous task turned out to be an arduous one.

Elm Galls Mr. Natale’s photo of elm galls.

Still, Mr. Natale learned a few things: a sycamore that’s a third of the way into the park, near 10th Street and Avenue A, is said to be its oldest. And there are at least 20 different types of trees in the park, including red oaks, pin oaks, white oaks, and willow oaks. The mulberry plants bear edibles; the pear trees, however, do not. And the park’s pea-sized crabapples are mostly for squirrels to enjoy.

Mr. Natale’s favorite trees are the American elms, which survived a blight of Dutch Elm Disease in the 1930s. Since he started the map, one was felled by Irene and two were cut down owing to internal rot.

“That’s kind of sad to see,” Mr. Natale said. “Those three trees were magnificent trees, they really changed the character of the area. Elms are big trees that provide a lot of shade. Their branches go out really wide, so those areas immediately changed from shady to sunny.”

If you’d like to hear more about Mr. Natale’s quest, meet him Saturday at 11 a.m., at the park entrance near Eighth Street and Avenue B.

Correction: Sept. 13, 2012
An earlier version of this post gave an incorrect age. Mr. Natale is 64, not 74.