I previously reported on the discovery of pumpkin ash trees in Central Park, expanding the known range of the species into Manhattan. Now, recent discoveries have expanded the range of the species in the Bronx as well, bringing the number of known populations of this rare tree in New York to five (four in the Bronx and one in Manhattan).
In 1903, Nathaniel Britton, co-founder of The New York Botanical Garden and one of the most influential botanists of the 20th Century, collected a specimen of a “wild” ash tree in what was then the Botanical Garden’s “North Meadow” (the site is now in the Bronx River Forest section of Bronx Park). Britton named the tree Fraxinus michauxii for André and François Michaux, a father-and-son team of 19th-century French botanists sent to catalog the arboreal treasures of North America. Taxonomists now consider Britton’s tree only a minor variant of Fraxinus profunda (the pumpkin ash) and not worthy of species distinction. The tree from which he collected the specimen is now gone, but its descendants are alive and well in the region, as we are discovering.
A quicksilver flash diverts your eye from the Bronx River’s frothy flow over the 182nd St. dam at River Park. Was it just the remnants of a potato chip bag slithering downstream?
Look again, and quick! If you’re lucky, you could glimpse an American eel, Anguilla rostrata.
Against unfavorable odds, the American eel has persisted in the urban waterways of New York since the city’s inception—surviving years of industrial pollution, raw sewage dumping, and runoff. In recent years, their populations have entered a precipitous decline, driven in part by long-term effects of the damming of freshwater rivers and streams, which they require as habitat.
What makes this strange and wonderful species—its finely-scaled body coated in a mucous layer that is truly “slippery as an eel”—important?