Protecting and Restoring Nature in the City

From its thousands of native species—both plant and animal—to its meandering waterways, nature is alive and well in New York City. Each year, NYBG experts work not only to protect the environment that we have, but restore it to its full potential.


Restoring the Thain Family Forest

A new era of restoration, research, and education in the Forest began in 2008 with the development of the Thain Family Forest Program. The first goal of this program is to improve forest health through active management informed by research. Forest staff, interns, and volunteers conduct a forest inventory every five years that provides data to prioritize invasive plant species to manage and areas of the Forest that require immediate attention.

Management of invasive plant species is carried out by staff with the help of thousands of volunteers including corporate and community groups. Areas managed are then planted with native plants grown from seed collected in the Forest. Since 2008, thousands of native trees, shrubs, and herbs have been planted within the 50-acre Thain Family Forest. This management strategy has been successful, having changed the future of the Forest that is now dominated by populations of native plants improving habitat and benefiting all who visit to enjoy and learn about northeastern forests.

Forest staff participate in local, regional, and international organizations to share experiences and expertise in ecological restoration and to work together to broaden the impact of improving ecosystems through successful management. These organizations include:


Bronx River Research & Partnerships

The Bronx River, New York City’s only freshwater river, flows through the center of NYBG and is buffered by the Thain Family Forest. Known as aquehung or “river of high bluffs” by the Lenape who lived and fished along it, the Bronx River is featured in the NYBG landscape by the Bronx River gorge, Stone Mill, and waterfall.

As a suburban to urban river, the Bronx River has been confronted with many challenges that are being reversed through coordinated stewardship along the whole length of the river and throughout its watershed. NYBG has developed partnerships with the Bronx River Alliance, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation’s Natural Resources Group, Westchester County Parks, and Bronx River Parkway Reservation Conservancy to collaboratively improve the health of the river and engage local communities in citizen science and stewardship.

Forest volunteers and visiting school groups conduct water quality monitoring. There are two methods that are used: standard chemical water quality tests including pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, nitrites, and turbidity and biological diversity sampling of macroinvertebrates including kicknets and leaf packs. The data collected are shared directly with the Bronx River Alliance through their online database,

Forest staff work to restore the riparian forest along the Bronx River banks according to the 2012 Bronx River Riparian Invasive Plant Management Plan collaboratively produced by New York City partners. Staff are also responsible for the task of clearing trash and debris from the Bronx River, hosting frequent cleanup events and collecting trash assessment data to determine what is accumulating and helping to inform advocacy groups to reduce the amount of litter in the river.

Recently, Garden staff have worked in an early detection and rapid response for a new invasive plant species, Corydalis incisa or incised fumewort, along the Bronx River banks. The entire length of the river has been surveyed and infestation areas are being managed to eradicate this emerging invasive plant.

Public Programs along the Bronx River are featured during NYBG’s Fall Forest Weekends with canoe trips and tours. Throughout the year, the Bronx River is also featured in regular Forest tours and specialty tours such as the History of the Bronx River.


Planting Thousands of Trees

Wherever you stand in The New York Botanical Garden, you are within sight of a magnificent tree. Founding director Nathaniel Lord Britton selected the Garden’s site largely because of the 50-acre old-growth forest at its heart, and the ancient oaks, tulip trees, sweetgums, maples, and other native trees that shaded the fields and pastures that surrounded the forest. When developing NYBG’s plant collections, pathways, and buildings, he insisted that none of these grand old trees be cut down and that every effort be made to protect them from construction damage.

Joining these pre-existing native trees are thousands of trees from around the world that form NYBG’s curated tree collections. The planting of rare and unusual trees to serve the Garden’s education and research programs began in the late 1890s and continues to this day. Pines from China, oaks from Europe, and maples from Japan comingle with native trees to create what is truly a dendrophile’s delight.

We plant hundreds of new trees every year in the Thain Family Forest, in our historic woody plant collections, and in our gardens and displays. These trees do more than just serve the Garden’s mission as a museum of plants. They fix carbon, filter storm water, produce oxygen, and remove pollutants from the air and soil. Planting new trees ensures that future generations will always have the opportunity to mark the arrival of spring with their favorite magnolia, rest in the shade on a summer’s day, or marvel at the polychromatic riot of the Forest in fall.