Tree-mendous: Survey unveils hidden eco benefits of Prospect Park plants

Tree-mendous: Survey unveils hidden eco benefits of Prospect Park plants
Photo by Brianna Kudisch

Meet the hardest working tree in Prospect Park!

An American elm located in the Long Meadow of Brooklyn’s Backyard is out-performing thousands of its leafy colleagues by removing more pollutants from the air, sucking up more storm water from the ground, and keeping the area cooler in the summer than any other in the park.

The workhorse elm was cited in a study by arboreal experts contracted by the Prospect Park Alliance to put a dollar value on the impact the park’s biggest flora has on the surrounding area.

Tree-huggers at Davey Resource Group took a tape measure to 12,268 of the park’s roughly 30,000 trees, determining the diameter of their trunks, the breadth of their foliage, and the expanse of their root systems to assess each plant’s value based on how they affected the cost of producing energy in the area, according to the Prospect Park Alliance’s John Jordan, who coordinated the survey. All told, park staff says the trees produced a whopping $1.5 million in annual eco benefits.

Prospect Park’s No. 1 employ-tree sits in the Long Meadow near the Picnic House and rakes in $466 a year in health benefits.

The surveyors also created an online map that locals can use to search out other high-performing trees, which include another American elm near the bandshell earning $454, a white oak located near the Prospect Park Boathouse earning $413, and a willow oak on the Prospect Park Lake peninsula producing $361 worth of eco benefits.

The $1.5 million in annual ecological benefits they uncovered includes scrubbing $125,000 worth of pollutants from the air, $17,000 worth of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and diverting $172,000 worth of storm water from the sewage system, in addition to producing $700,000 worth of energy savings by helping regulate the temperatures of nearby homes.

The Alliance’s plant count will also help park stewards preform necessary tree maintenance, and plan for future blights by noting the population and locations of various tree species in the park, each of which are subject to various parasites that could take root in Brooklyn’s Backyard.

For instance, the invasive emerald ash borer beetles were found living in 10 ash trees in Prospect Park last year, and, while that species of plant only represents an estimated three percent of all park trees, other potential threats loom on the horizon, including the hardwood tree infesting Asian longhorn beetle, oak wilt disease, and even the spotted lanternfly, which lays its eggs within Ailanthus alitissima, the plant starring in Betty Smith’s classic “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”

“The survey lets us know where each species of tree is, so we can look for trees in lower health and get a clue of where we might look for diseases,” said Jordan.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
10 out of 10: Park Slope native Noah Stern gave this American elm a big thumbs up after it was named Prospect Park’s most ecologically valuable tree.
Photo by Brianna Kudisch